Casinos are Shutting Down over Coronavirus Fears

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images Casinos across the United States have been trying to find a way to stay open this week but with COVID-19 being declared a national emergency their luck may have just run out

Casinos around the country were already curtailing large gatherings and highlighting their efforts to try and make their hotels and gaming venues safe for gamblers and staff, but it may have been too little, too late because state gaming commissions and health departments are applying pressure to close them in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic now that it has been declared a national emergency.

The two largest casino operators on the Las Vegas strip – MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts – have now announced that they are shutting down operations, for two weeks in Wynn’s case and until May 1st in the case of MGM.

MGM Resorts owns 29 major casino properties worldwide and employs approximately 80,000 people in all. Thirteen of those properties are on the Las Vegas Strip including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Luxor, New York-New York, Excalibur, and Park MGM. In their statement, MGM management said they would continue two weeks pay for all of their affected employees in Las Vegas and continue their company health benefits through June 30 with the hopes of restarting their Las Vegas hotels and casino come May.

Wynn Resorts is closing down the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore properties on the Strip and is hoping to reopen in two week’s time. The company told the Las Vegas Review Journal that they will continue paying their employees through the closure and will key a skeleton staff on the properties for security and maintenance.

Atlantic City will shutter all nine casinos along their famous boardwalk, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced today in a conference call with the governors of New York and Connecticut who urged casinos and racetracks in their respective states to heed the same advice.

Connecticut’s two large casinos – Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun – are both closing down. Foxwoods said in their statement that their current plan is to reopen in two weeks’ time while Mohegan Sun did not set a specific date for their temporary closure.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Monday which temporarily closes casinos, theaters and bars, and limits restaurants to carry-out and delivery orders. Casinos in the Detroit area alone employee roughly 7,000 people. Michigan’s order requires public accommodations including restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, bars, taverns, brewpubs, distilleries, clubs, movie theaters, indoor and outdoor performance venues, gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities, exercise studios, spas, and casinos.

Encore Boston Harbor, the $2.6 billion dollar casino in Everett, Massachusetts that opened last June, closed on Sunday for at least two weeks following a unanimous vote by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Saturday to temporarily suspend operations at the facility as a precaution.

The gaming commission’s order also closed Massachusetts’ other two casinos: the MGM Springfield and the Plainridge Park Casino.

“We are all doing our best to appropriately and thoughtfully respond to this highly complex and unprecedented set of circumstances and uncertainties,” the commission said in a statement following their emergency vote.

Rhode Island’s Lottery Director ordered the state’s two casinos to stay closed for at least the next week while officials assess when it is going to be safe to reopen them, WPRI Providence reports.

All 10 casinos in Illinois have now been ordered to close up shop for at least a two-week period, Chicago’s WGN reports.

Following a brief tug-of-war over the wording of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s ban on large gatherings, all four of Ohio’s casinos capitulated and shut down operations at midnight on Friday, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. One of those Ohio casinos, the Hollywood Columbus, issued a statement saying their facility is now “temporarily closed” while stressing that no cases of COVID-19 have been associated with the resort.

The Valley Forge Casino Resort in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania has closed “until further notice” with a statement on their website saying that while there had been no COVID-19 cases at the resort, they decided to shut down “for the health and well-being of our guests and team members.” As of Friday evening two other Pennsylvania casinos, the Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh’s North Side and Harrah’s in Philadelphia, had announced they were planning to close for the next two weeks. The Rivers Casino said they are planning to continue paying their staff during the temporary closure. There was no word yet on the status of the other nine casinos operating in Pennsylvania.

Casinos in Washington state remain open; however, the Silver Reef Casino closed down its buffet as a precaution after state health officials notified the resort that a person who later tested positive for COVID-19 had dined there earlier in the week. In a statement on their website, the Silver Reef said that visit was “limited to the buffet” and all staff who had potentially been exposed to that diner have been notified.

In Oklahoma, which has the second-largest collection of casinos in the country behind Nevada, none of the state’s 134 casinos have closed and spokespersons for the Native American tribes that control most of them have said there are currently no plans to do so and no known cases of COVID-19 associated with any of Oklahoma’s gaming establishments.

The largest of the 62 Native American casinos operating in California – the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula in Southern California – has decided to close through the end of March while continuing base pay and benefits for resort empolyees.
“As a Tribal Government and major employer of thousands of people, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close Pechanga Resort Casino for the health and safety of our Team Members, Tribal Members, and guests,” said Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro. “No matter what, the Pechanga family will rise to this challenge together with the strength, compassion, determination, and resilience that our ancestors instilled in us.”

Six of the largest “card clubs” in California, including the Commerce Casino in Commerce where one employee has tested presumptively positive for COVID-19 are shutting down, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Another large Native American casino east of Los Angeles – the San Manuel Casino in Highland – has also announced plans to close through the end of March.

In Florida, gaming continued apace over the weekend, the South Florida Sun Sentinal reported, with one casino goer, retired school teacher Rick Barry, telling the paper, with a laugh “I guess we’re gambling.” At the Gulfstream Park race track in Hallandale Beach, thoroughbred races which lead eventually to places in the Kentucky Derby are still being run but spectators have been barred from the stands, although the Sun Sentinel said the casino remains open.

All 14 casinos in the state of Indiana will close for “at least” the next 14 days, WGN reports.

Maryland Governor Lawrence Hogan issued a proclamation on Sunday immediately closing all 12 casinos and racetracks in the state “until the state of emergency has been terminated.” The order also extends to all simulcast betting facilities across Baltimore and the rest of Maryland.

Montana’s Great Peaks and Lil Peaks Casinos have closed through the end of this month.

In New Mexico, the governor of the Pueblo of Pojoaque has closed three casinos – Buffalo Thunder, Cities of Gold and Jake’s Casino – on Pueblo territory.

New York’s Empire City Casino in Yonkers is closed along with its horse racing track and the company, which is part of MGM Resorts, said it is anticipating reopening after two weeks.

Alabama’s Wind Creek Casino in Wetumpka closed just for the day on Sunday in order to conduct a precautionary “deep cleaning” of their facility after learning that a guest who came through three weeks ago has since tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement on their website Wind Creek said they plan to reopen on Monday for business with an emphasis on “social distancing” among patrons and staff.

Arkansas’ Oaklawn Racing Casino in Hot Springs decided to run the Rebel Stakes horse race, which would normally attract 40,000 spectators, without the crowd over the weekend; although, in a statement Oaklawn said their casino and sports book “are staying open at this time.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reaffirmed Saturday that there are no plans at present to order casinos to close in Atlantic City, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

Wisconsin’s 715Newsroom reports that the half dozen tribal casinos owned by the Ho-Chunk Nation across the state of Wisconsin are operating normally “for the time being.”

The Montreal Casino in Canada has closed until further notice following a request from the Premier of Quebec to prevent large scale gatherings in the province.

One of the Utah Jazz Players Who Tested Positive for Coronavirus Recently Stayed at the Boston Harbor Encore Casino, The Boston Globe is reporting

Encore Boston took pains to try and reassure customers that Utah Jazz player Donovan Mitchell was largely off by himself when he stayed at the casino’s hotel on March 5 when the Jazz were in Boston to play against the Celtics, the Boston Globe reported.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesA dealer hands out chips at a table at a casino in Detroit, Michigan.

Las Vegas Strip Tries to Scale Back Crowd Situations While Still Remaining Open

Before this week’s decision to shut down completely, MGM Resorts International, the dominant casino company in Las Vegas with 13 properties on the Vegas Strip, had announced Friday that they were stopping just about everything but the roulette wheels, in an effort to curtail crowds and maintain “social distancing.”

An MGM spokesman also confirmed that so far two employees at MGM resort properties on the Vegas Strip have tested positive for COVID-19 coronavirus and the company said it expects more will do so in the days ahead.

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty ImagesLas Vegas Boulevard, also known as the Las Vegas Strip, including the Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, MGM Grand, other hotels and casinos that are part of the Las Vegas skyline.

The economy in Vegas and across the state in Reno is dependent not only on gambling but also upon the large conventions that come in to those two cities almost nonstop to take advantage of their especially large hotels and exhibition spaces.  Conventions have been cancelling left-and-right in recent days with one of the biggest of the season, the annual blowout by the National Association of Broadcasters, which normally employs 2,500 workers behind-the-scenes, has now also been halted. It’s a daunting prospect for thousands of Teamsters and members of other unions, like the Culinary Workers Union, whose members depend on the huge influx of visitors to those conventions and annual trade shows for their livelihoods.

If there’s a silver lining to every crisis then perhaps the lone beneficiary of the current concern over deep cleaning gaming tables in casinos may be Clay Dubois, owner of Elite Chip Care, a company that specializes in scrubbing up casino chips. Dubois told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he’s been getting two or three calls a day from interested resorts.

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