Cheers! Drink Service And Bar Seating Returning To PA Casinos After Long Drought

Posted By Katie Kohler on March 15, 2021 - Last Updated on March 17, 2021

Raise a glass. Visitors at Pennsylvania casinos will soon be able to drink on the gaming floor and at bars again.

A Monday announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf loosened more coronavirus restrictions and expanded capacity limits.

Casinos in Pennsylvania have not been permitted to provide drink service to players at slots or table games. Also, if you wanted an alcoholic beverage, you had to order a meal. The rules have been in effect since PA casinos started reopening in June.

However, don’t expect to belly up to the bar for a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day or have a beer at PA retail sportsbooks during March Madness without ordering food. The restrictions aren’t being lifted until early April. “Regular” alcohol sales and cocktail servers offering drinks will return in time for the NCAA Championship game on April 6, however.

Updated rules for drinking at PA casinos and restaurants

Effective April 4:

  • Casino capacity in PA raised from 50% to 75%.
  • Restaurants may resume bar service.
  • Alcohol service will be allowed without the purchase of food.
  • The curfew for removing alcoholic drinks from tables will be lifted.
  • Indoor dining capacity will be raised to 75% for those restaurants that are currently self-certified and those that undergo the self-certification process, which involves agreeing to strictly comply to all public health safety guidelines and orders, including the cleaning and mitigation protocols and other operational requirements contained in the Governor and Secretary of Health’s mitigation and enforcement orders issued on November 23, 2020, as amended. Those restaurants that do not self-certify may raise capacity to 50%.
  • Outdoor dining, curbside pick-up and takeout are still encouraged.
  • Requirements such as mask-wearing, and social distancing, including 6 feet between diners still apply.

Gov. Wolf said in the announcement:

“Pennsylvanians have stepped up and done their part to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Our case counts continue to go down, hospitalizations are declining, and the percent positivity rate gets lower every week – all very positive signs. The number of people getting vaccinated increases daily and we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to allow our restaurants, bars and other service businesses to get back to more normal operations.”

According to 6ABC.com, a spokesperson for the City of Philadelphia said city officials will review the governor’s announcement before making a decision about following suit. The city can, and has been, more restrictive than the rest of the state with coronavirus mitigation efforts.

The two casinos in the city limits, Rivers Casino Philadelphia and the new Live! Casino Philadelphia along with the South Philadelphia Race & Sportsbook, are subject to the city’s rules.

Casino execs and lawmakers puzzled by current rules

Last week, PlayPennsylvania reported that the current rules about drinking at casinos puzzled casino execs and lawmakers.

At a House Gaming Oversight Committee meeting in late February, various casino operators spoke about the degree to which lack of beverage service hurts operations and limits the number of food service employees who can be brought back to work.

Chris Albrecht, the General Manager of Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino said:

“That [drink service] is certainly an experience that many casino gamblers like to enjoy. When you think through obviously the various seasonal events…March Madness coming up…That’s certainly an experience that would be of value to our industry to be able to help restore some of the revenues we’ve lost during this period.”

Committee Member and Representative Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery) was puzzled by the claim.

“Wait a minute. If they’re able to do that in Atlantic City, I can’t see why we can’t do that here in Pennsylvania.”

Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Kathy McCracken, Wind Creek Casino’s Executive Vice President and General Manager, also expressed confusion over the restrictions.

“We actually have servers going to the slot and tables to serve like coffee and tea and things like that but not alcohol,” said McCracken.

Rough waters for Rivers

Rivers Casino Philadelphia voluntarily closed in mid-March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic hit Pennsylvania. It remained shuttered for four months and reopened on July 17. That marked the longest coronavirus-caused closure of any brick-and-mortar casino in PA. Rivers Casino Philadelphia closed again on Nov. 20 and reopened on Jan. 4 for another round of coronavirus mitigation closures.

Bud Green, Assistant General Manager at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, represented parent company Rush Street Gaming and spoke on behalf of Rivers Pittsburgh and Rivers Philadelphia casinos at the meeting.

Revenues are down 35% for the first six weeks of 2021 compared to the first six weeks of 2020. Employment at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is down by more than 35%.

Green said:

“Rivers Philadelphia has been hit harder compared to the other casinos in the state because of additional restrictions placed on them by local authorities on top of the mitigation efforts by the state. There are unrealistic mitigations such as no serving alcoholic drinks on the casino floor, restaurant limitations and closures, and restricted event capacity.

“The decrease in case counts and vaccine rollouts suggest that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still operating at 50 percent capacity with no indication of when full capacity may return, when we can serve drinks on the casino floor, or offer to hold unrestricted events like weddings and trade shows that we’ve held in the past.”

FAQs about drinking at PA casinos

Casinos in the state are currently operating at reduced capacity, have mandatory mask-wearing for visitors and employees with numerous health and safety measures mandated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Casinos can also employ additional measures such as temperature screenings.

Casino visitors have questions about the current rules and PlayPennsylvania is answering some FAQs.

What can you drink on the floor at PA casinos?

Soft drinks, water, coffee, and tea.

Starting on April 4, full beverage service will be back with alcoholic beverages.

How can I get alcoholic drinks at a PA casino?

Go to one of the restaurants or bars and order it with a meal. However, this rule ends on April 4. Then you can get a beer/wine/mixed drink at a bar or restaurant (without food) and drink service will return to the gaming floor.

Why are the rules more strict in Philadelphia?

Philadelphia casinos Rivers Philadelphia and the new Live! Casino Philadelphia have stricter measures due to being subject to additional measures from the City of Philadelphia.

There, you can’t drink anything (no coffee, soda, water, tea) on the casino floor. However, if you travel to any of the state’s other casinos, you can enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage while at the slot machine or table games.

What about on April 4? It remains to be seen if Philadelphia will follow suit with the rest of the state and ease restrictions.

When will drink service resume?

April 4, 2021.

What about smoking at PA casinos?

Smoking is currently not permitted at any PA casinos. There are areas set up outside for smoking. At places like Wind Creek, guests do not have to be “re-screened” by a temperature check when they reenter after going to the designated outside area to smoke.

Lead image c/o Live! Casino Philadelphia.

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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