Updated Mask Rules At Pennsylvania Casinos And The Question Of Enforcement

Posted By Katie Kohler on May 19, 2021 - Last Updated on May 23, 2021

Vaccinated visitors at some Pennsylvania casinos no longer have to wear masks. Last week, the US Center for Disease Control said people fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health followed up with an announcement that businesses can choose to continue to require people to wear masks. By Friday afternoon, a few PA casinos revised their rules and welcomed fully vaxxed guests to enter without a mask.

No masks at some Pennsylvania casinos

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Director of Communication Doug Harbach commented that mask rules are up to each Pennsylvania casino:

“The PGCB advised Pennsylvania casinos to exercise discretion when applying the revised CDC and Pennsylvania Dept. of Health guidelines regarding masks and facial coverings indoors with patrons. In kind, employees not fully vaccinated are required to wear a mask.”

A couple of Pennsylvania casinos posted the following message about their updated mask mandate:

Per CDC and PA Department of Health Guidelines effective immediately:

Individuals who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask.

Individuals who are not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated from COVID-19 must continue to wear a mask. 

No mask if fully vaccinated at these PA casinos:

  • The Meadows
  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh
  • Valley Forge Casino
  • Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia
  • Hollywood Casino
  • Parx
  • Presque Isle Downs
  • Lady Luck Nemacolin
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • Mohegan Sun Pocono

Masks for all still a must at these casinos

Six casinos currently require all guests, whether vaccinated or not, to wear masks.

  • Wind Creek Casino
  • Live! Casino Pittsburgh
  • Live! Casino Philadelphia
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia

Live! Casino Pittsburgh posted on Facebook in part:

“We are aware of the CDC’s latest guidelines regarding fully vaccinated people not needing to wear a mask. At Live! Casino, our top priority has always been the safety and well being of our guests and team members. We are currently evaluating our policies regarding mask wearing. We still kindly ask that you please wear a mask when you are at Live! Casino until further notice.”

On May 19, the City of Philadelphia said indoor masking is still required even if fully vaccinated. Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Live! Casino Philadelphia are in the city’s limits and subject to their rules. Philadelphia plans to ditch all capacity limits on June 11 and anyone fully vaxxed can ditch the mask indoors. However, the city curbed the statement by saying they would review it and could possibly delay.

Expanded capacity and loosened restrictions

On May 5, Governor Tom Wolf said Pennsylvania would lift all COVID-19 restrictions, except mask wearing in public, on Memorial Day. It meant that Pennsylvania casinos can expand capacity to 100%. In addition, there will be no limits at bars or restaurants.

However, the City of Philadelphia delayed saying when or if they would follow suit with the rest of the state. Less than a week later, Philadelphia revealed they would lift all restrictions except masking on June 11. The two Philadelphia casinos – Live! Casino Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Philadelphia – can increase capacity on Friday, May 21.

During the PGCB monthly meeting on May 18, Executive Director Kevin O’Toole touted all casinos in PA lifting limits:

“As we approach Memorial Day, the casinos are preparing for the lifting of capacity limits at their facilities. The economic benefits of the casinos to get back to full capacity and all of its food and beverage outlets is very significant. Food and beverage operations is one of the most important sources of non-gaming revenue for each Pennsylvania casino. It also allows casinos to bring more of their employees back.”

Is asking someone for the vaccination card or vax status a HIPPA violation?

No. It is not a HIPAA violation for a casino or any business to ask about a customer’s vaccination status.

Why isn’t asking for a vaccine card a HIPAA violation?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) doesn’t apply in this circumstance. HIPAA is a federal law designed to protect patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. Many misunderstand this law.

Lee D. Moylan, a Partner and Chair of the Labor and Employment Law Practice Group at Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg in Philadelphia, helped explain the updated mask guidelines and the legality of it.

It’s largely in place so a third party, like your doctor, can not give out your private health information without your consent. HIPAA applies only to “covered entities” and does not apply to most businesses.

“I can not see any way it would apply to a casino,” said Moylan.

Can a casino ask to see my vaccination card?

“A casino certainly can ask a customer for proof that they have been fully vaccinated,” answered Moylan.

If a customer refuses to produce their vaccine card and refuses to comply with local and CDC guidelines then the casino can ask them to leave, noted Moylan.

If I refuse to show my vaccine card and cannot enter, would I have grounds to pursue legal actions?

No. Moylan explained that casinos are private establishments and can set their own health and safety guidelines.

Do casino employees have to show proof of vaccination?

Currently under CDC guidelines and EUC guidelines an employer may lawfully ask an employee for proof of their vaccine to protect the health and safety of the workplace environment. However, if you can’t get the vaccine due to a medical issue, there might be a state or law that exempts certain individuals.

(Moylan noted that Title III in the ADA may apply in very few circumstances).

Enforcement for mask and n0-mask wearing

A big question surrounding the updated guidelines is enforcement. Will casinos, or any businesses, ask to see vaccine ID cards?

The coronavirus pandemic closed Pennsylvania casinos for a third of the year in 2020. Drink service and bar seating resumed last month. They are in the business of providing a fun, welcoming environment for their guests. But, they are also balancing the health and safety of employees and patrons.

“What I am generally seeing is that companies are relying on the honor system,” commented Moylan. “If you aren’t wearing the mask, assume you are fully vaccinated. It’s hard. I sympathize with my clients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have had to balance the health and safety of their clients and employees with their own legal obligations under OSHAA.”

Is smoking allowed at Pennsylvania casinos?

No. There is currently no smoking at PA casinos. All casinos in Pennsylvania have designated areas set up outside for smoking.

Casinos started reopening in June 2020 after coronavirus-caused closures in March. The PGCB in concert with guidelines for mask-wearing at the state’s casinos, put a no indoor smoking rule into effect.

“Currently, that remains in effect but we are monitoring the situation in relations to any additional changes in guidelines that would enable complete relief of mask wearing,” said Harbach.

Masks required for now at Atlantic City casinos

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy lifted outdoor mask mandates but indoor mask wearing is still required.

New Jersey is ending capacity limits on May 19. Atlantic City casinos, restaurants, bars, retail, pools and spas can move to full capacity. Starting Friday, people can once again sit at a bar or eat at a buffet in New Jersey.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/John Locher

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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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