The sun peeked out at the Borgata Beer Garden just before 1 p.m. on Monday. But there were no customers there, or at the outdoor pool next door, to see it.
“First time all weekend,” a head-shaking Borgata employee said of the brightness that came a little too late for the many Memorial Day holiday stretch visitors busy packing their bags in an attempt to beat the traffic.
Borgata’s sportsbook, too, was nearly empty as a key Yankees-Rays baseball game was about to begin (the same was true at the William Hill-branded sportsbook at Ocean Casino after the game started). As for the casino’s ATMs, of five we checked, two were out of order and the other three offered an opportunity to check an account balance but not to withdraw cash.
The vibe was better on the Boardwalk that afternoon, with a jitney driver noting that, after being told not to bother coming to work on a rainy Saturday, he got his shifts in on Sunday and Monday.
“This is better,” the driver said. “We could really use a good summer.”
Atlantic City’s nine casinos enjoyed what so many other New Jersey businesses enjoyed beginning on Friday: the option introduced by Gov. Phil Murphy via an executive order, dropping 14-month-old COVID-19-related restrictions that enforced social distancing of six feet and mandated the wearing of masks.
Signs of things to come
No signage acknowledging the change in policies was evident at Borgata, though a revolving door ad banner read, “WELCOME BACK TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE.” A security guard — who was wearing a mask — confirmed that mask-wearing was now optional.
The situation was spelled out much more clearly at Hard Rock casino.
“WELCOME: Fully vaccinated guests are not required to wear masks,” the sign near the entrance from the parking garage read, adding, “If you are not fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends that you wear your mask and observe social distancing protocols. Please do not enter the premises if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.”
At Borgata, Hard Rock, and Ocean on Monday, those who ditched their masks outnumbered those who did not — but not by a large margin, as force of habit and perhaps a bit of insecurity won the day for many gamblers.
Only a small number of live dealer tables at Borgata still featured the now-familiar Plexiglas partitions between each player. The dividers remained at the poker room at that casino, however.
At Ocean, the only Plexiglas was between the players and the dealer at each table. A sign at Hard Rock noted that smoking still is prohibited anywhere in the casino — though it is not clear whether that change is permanent, and Murphy said recently that he had not yet decided if he would lift the pandemic-era ban.
One if by Landshark, two if by sea
The Landshark Bar & Grill, on the beach adjacent to Resorts Casino on the Boardwalk, proved a popular spot as the sun lifted temperatures over 70 degrees with a minimum of ocean breeze at mid-day Monday.
“DEAR VALUED GUESTS: In accordance with the CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated guests and staff are no longer required to wear masks on our property,” Landshark’s sign read for customers in a “Margaritaville” state of mind. “However, you may request your server wear a mask and we will gladly comply.”
A DJ was on hand outside the 100,000-square-foot Lucky Snake arcade on the Boardwalk, letting passersby know that much of the former casino floor at the former Showboat casino had been repurposed as of its opening two weeks ago.
“Come inside to play the games, or watch people play the games!” the DJ suggested.
The Boardwalk was bustling as the sun welcomed those willing to risk later traffic, with young and old alike — the latter highlighted by one fellow whose T-shirt noted, “You know you’re getting old when your happy hour is a nap!” as he walked right on by the Landshark’s frozen concoctions.
Inside at Hard Rock, the Fresh Harvest all-you-can-eat buffet featured a modest line even at 4 p.m. on Monday — with social distancing rules now set aside, even as many stuck to wearing those oh-so-familiar masks.
Those with flexible schedules this week can enjoy temperatures in Atlantic City in the 70s — although Thursday and Friday are expected to include some rain on the parade of pandemic-weary gamblers. Temperatures likely will approach 80 degrees next week, as summer inches toward its peak in New Jersey’s casino city.