Philadelphia Freedom: Expanded Capacity For Philadelphia Casinos And Sports Teams

Written By Katie Kohler on May 11, 2021
Philadelphia Casinos and Sports Arenas Expand Capacity

“Philadelphia Freedom” took on a new meaning on Tuesday afternoon. The City of Philadelphia will lift most COVID-19 restrictions except masking and fully open on June 11.

The two Philadelphia casinos – Live! Casino Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Philadelphia – can increase capacity on Friday, May 21.

Also, the Philadelphia Sixers and the Philadelphia Phillies can have 50% capacity at Wells Fargo Center and Citizens Bank Park.

Increased capacity for Philadelphia casinos and stadiums

Last Week, Governor Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania will lift all coronavirus restrictions, expect mask wearing, on Memorial Day. For casinos, it meant that they could expand capacity to 100%.

Following Wolf’s announcement, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley did not indicate if the city of Philadelphia would follow suit and said they would review the state’s plan. For the past 14 months, Philadelphia has kept COVID restrictions in place longer.

Tuesday afternoon’s announcement brought the following updates for Philadelphia casinos:

  • Casinos can operate 50% maximum capacity, or 75% maximum capacity if they can meet enhanced ventilation standards.
  • Must enforce a minimum of three feet of distance between persons of different groups.
  • Alcohol can be sold to patrons at gaming machines. In addition, patrons no longer have to order food in order to buy alcohol.
  • Masking still required.

For Sixers fans at Wells Fargo Center and Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park, the updates say:

  • If the site has fixed seating, it will be allowed to operate at 50% of occupancy limit.
  • Must enforce a minimum of three feet of distance between persons of different groups.
  • Masking still required.

Yesterday, the Philadelphia Union of the MLS said they would open Subaru Park in Chester to 100% capacity on June 23. Since it is not in the Philadelphia city limits, it is not subject to its rules.

No. 1 Philadelphia Sixers? Team of the Year?

The Sixers can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win tonight against the Indiana Pacers. More fans at Wells Fargo Center should provide a huge advantage for the Sixers. The Sixers tweeted this statement from Chris Heck, president of business operations. It read in part:

“We are thrilled by the City’s decision to increase capacity to 50-percent in time for the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Our fans have created the most passionate and intense atmosphere in the NBA and it gives us the type of home court advantage our players can feed off of in the postseason.”

The play-in tournament for the NBA Playoffs starts on May 18. The NBA playoffs begin on May 22.

At BetMGM online sportsbook, the Brooklyn Nets (+230) are currently the favorite to win the NBA Championship. The Sixers are +700 to win the championship and +300 to win the East.

Also, at PA online betting apps like BetMGM you can bet on the Sixers’ exact stage of elimination.

  • Win NBA Championship: +800
  • Lose in Finals: +400
  • Eliminated in Conference Finals: +230
  • Lose in Conference semifinals: +280
  • Ousted in first round: +250

No offense to Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,” but with fans back at the Wells Fargo for the playoffs, we will be blaring “Here come the Sixers.”

More vax, more lax rules

Why is Philadelphia and the state relaxing restrictions? Increased vaccinations and decreasing case counts.

Statewide percent positivity for the week of April 30 to May 6 was 6.6%.

According to the CDC, as of May 11, about 52% of Pennsylvanians over 18 are fully vaccinated. With 9.3 million jabs given so far, PA ranks fifth in the US for total doses administered.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said:

“Today’s announcement has been long awaited in our 14-month battle against COVID-19. This moment is possible because of the immense sacrifices that Philadelphians of all ages made over the last year. As we look forward to our recovery, which will be strong, we have to stay mindful that the pandemic is not over.

“We are not yet declaring victory because cases and hospitalizations can rise again at any point if we’re not diligent. I urge everyone to be smart, to continue wearing masks around others, and most importantly, to join the more than half a million fellow Philadelphians who already got their vaccine.”

Long road back for Philadelphia casinos

The coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of Pennsylvania casinos for a third of the year in 2020. It had a devastating impact on the 20,000 PA casino employees, as well as casino revenue and the state’s tax coffers.

Timeline of Pennsylvania casino closures for COVID

  • March 12: The first casino in Pennsylvania closed to stop the spread of coronavirus.
  • June 9: The first two casinos reopened in the state — Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and The Meadows.
  • July 17: Rivers Casino Philadelphia, the only remaining shuttered casino, resumed operations
  • Dec. 12: Casinos ordered to close for at least three weeks due to rising case counts and hospitalizations
  • Jan. 4, 2021: PA casinos reopened

However, even when casinos reopened in the summer and then again in January, they were not allowed to serve alcohol on the gaming floor or offer seating at the bar.

The COVID-19 rules around drinking at casinos puzzled casino execs, lawmakers and casino visitors.

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.”

The claim puzzled Committee Member and Representative Joe Ciresi (D-Montgomery).

“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.”

A rough year for Rivers Casino Philadelphia

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. Rivers Casino Philadelphia had the longest coronavirus-caused closure of any brick-and-mortar casino in PA. They 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 at the meeting and spoke on behalf of Rivers Pittsburgh and Rivers Philadelphia casinos at the meeting.

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.”

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Katie Kohler Avatar
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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist and Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania. Katie especially enjoys creating unique content and on-the-ground reporting in PA. She is focused on creating valuable, timely content about casinos and sports betting for readers. Katie has covered the legal Pennsylvania gambling industry for Catena Media since 2019.

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