Borgata’s Back In Business In Atlantic City

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Three weeks after its eight Atlantic City rivals reopened their doors, the Borgata casino — the biggest of them all in terms of generating revenue prior to the mid-March COVID-19 pandemic shutdown — once again welcomed the public on Sunday.

The vibe was a familiar one: non-invasive temperature checks at the door; limited, socially distanced seating on the table game floors and slot machine lounges; and closure of fine dining options, which in this case includes the Bobby Flay and Old Homestead steakhouses.

Walk past a “Let it Ride” or “Caribbean Stud” table, and you see gamblers in each of three seats, with plexiglass separating them from each other as well as the dealer. For those visitors, the game seemed to be the thing — with the new ambience something to be managed.

As with the other Atlantic City casinos, vigilance of staff in enforcing safety protocols in New Jersey appears to take a back seat to self-regulation, thankfully.

In several walkthroughs on Sunday of the slots floor — an area where, unlike at the tables, one might go unnoticed at least briefly by security — out of at least 150 patrons, only two would not get an “A” grade for mask wearing. And in those two cases, it was a mask slipping below the nose while still covering the mouth, and in neither case was another visitor within 25 feet. Neither gambler appeared to be making any sort of rebellious statement.

New Jersey gaining in its battle vs. the pandemic

By some expert measures, New Jersey is one of only three states making “strong progress” in its efforts against COVID-19.

Why is a complicated question, but it’s difficult to ignore the nearly 14,000 deaths in the state during the pandemic — with the vast majority occurring in the early stages. Outbreaks are far from hypothetical to most state residents.

Casinos in the state currently are limited to 25% capacity, but that hasn’t created many problems yet. A portion of the public is not yet ready to get back into this sort of activity, and casino floors by design reflect a roominess that tends to leave plenty of space in many areas even on a normal, busy night.

If the protocols produce no issues in the next few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy is liable to allow for 50% capacity — just as more gamblers are becoming less reticent to make a visit.

The lack of indoor dining and drinks beyond “grab-and-go” inside the casino may be the most disconcerting aspect of a visit once the presence of plexiglass and missing slot machine seats begins to seem routine.

All casinos are trying to maximize their outdoor space for such enjoyment, and Borgata is no exception. Its beer garden near the outdoor pool is a good choice, with seating both in and out of the sun. Sixteen-ounce draft beers go for $8 while a white Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand will set you back $11, and there is light fare such as Coney Island hot dogs and hamburgers — meat and meatless.

The beer garden by the pool provided an outdoor food/drink option at Borgata

There also are food trucks in that area. On Sunday, one called “Guac This Way” had come down from MGM’s Springfield, Mass. property.

This bakery in Borgata is open for business

Borgata’s Racebook — the only such simulcasting parlor left in Atlantic City — was open and had around two dozen visitors at lunchtime.

The casino’s sportsbook was closed, however. Not so over at Resorts — but with no food or drink available inside that DraftKings Sportsbook, only a half dozen men were on hand for the first pitch of the local favorite Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

Borgata actually opened its doors to some high-rollers on Thursday, allowing returning casino workers to get acclimated to the “new normal” for a couple of days before the general public was admitted.

Atlantic City Boardwalk — is it worth the gamble?

The continuing heat wave in the region drew plenty of visitors on Sunday, especially on the beaches where crowds were strong but not so mobbed that it was difficult to see any sand from a distance.

With plenty of elbow room and ocean breezes, the beach didn’t seem like a particularly dangerous spot.

The beach was a relatively safe spot on Sunday, with people generally spread out

But what about the iconic Boardwalk? Again, there was a good crowd, but not so large that there wasn’t room to socially distance. Mask wearing was only in the 20% range, but that’s not as much of a concern — by a long shot — as on an indoor casino floor.

The Wet Willie’s bar on the Boardwalk near Resorts, which is closed on the inside, had a line outside for its famous frozen daiquiris-to-go that did not pass a “six feet of social distancing” test. But even there, customers seemed to instinctively put their masks on as a countermeasure.

Beverage seekers on the Boardwalk did a mediocre job of social distancing

The Margaritaville restaurant, which is featuring outside table dining, had a chalkboard sign embodying both the Jimmy Buffett spirit and the times we live in:

“Please Help Us Ensure Everyone’s Safety.

“No Mask?

“No Service.

“No Shoes? No Shirt?

“No Problem!”

Lead photo by Racheal Grazias / Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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