Pennsylvania Casino Closings and Reopening Plans Part 2: Updated Nov. 23

Posted on November 18, 2020 - Last Updated on November 23, 2020

Casinos in Pennsylvania are once again closing due to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases.

PlayPennsylvania will continue to provide updates on Pennsylvania casino closures and eventual reopenings as information becomes available.

Timeline of PA casino closures and reopenings in spring/summer

In early March, PlayPennsylvania started reporting on the coronavirus and ways for visitors to protect themselves during visits to casinos. A live blog started on March 12 as casinos across the commonwealth began to close to slow the spread of COVID-19.

All 12 brick-and-mortar casinos closed for about 100 days before the first ones reopened their doors in June.

Timeline of closures of Pennsylvania casinos in spring 2020

  • March 12: The first casino in Pennsylvania closed to stop the spread of coronavirus.
  • March 17: All 12 PA casinos closed.
  • June 9: The first two casinos reopened in the state — Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and The Meadows.
  • 84 days: All casinos in PA were out of operation.
  • July 17: Rivers Casino Philadelphia, the only remaining shuttered casino, resumed operations.
  • 126 days: Amount of time from when the first casino closed to the last casino opened.

Casino health and safety protocols

When casinos reopened, things looked different. Per the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, all casinos in the state have been required to follow COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols, which detail the minimum safety and health-related requirements that are mandatory before reopening.

Key points to remember are:

  • Casinos can reopen at 50% capacity.
  • Employees and guests must wear masks.
  • There are markings on the floor to promote social distancing.
  • Mandatory enhanced cleaning throughout the facility.

At first, poker rooms were not authorized to operate due to players’ handling of cards and chips. But by mid-November, five of the nine live poker rooms in PA reopened

Are casinos in Pennsylvania open?

As of Nov. 23 just Rivers Philadelphia and South Philadelphia Race and Sportsbook (within Philly city limits) are closed. But the remaining 11 casinos are open.

Nov. 23: Alcohol sales axed the night before Thanksgiving

People visiting casinos on Wednesday will have to switch to water or soft drinks at 5 p.m.

As coronavirus continues to spread across Pennsylvania, Health Secretary Rachel Levine ordered alcohol sales at bars and restaurants to shut down at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25. Thanksgiving eve is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year. Sales can resume at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Governor Tom Wolf commented on the kibosh:

“Let’s forego that…just one time. And if we do that and all these other things then we are going to get back to life as we really want to LIVE AND go to bars anytime we want.

As for before and after Nov. 25, here are the rules for alcohol at casinos in Pennsylvania:

Alcohol can only be served when food is purchased, and drink service on the casino floor is prohibited. On-site consumption of alcohol must end at 11 p.m., and all alcoholic beverages must be removed from patrons by midnight.

According to a press release on Monday, the statewide percent-positivity went up to 11.1% from 9.6% last week. Every county in the state has a concerning percent positivity above five percent except for one county, Cameron County at 1.9 percent.

“This week’s data, in terms of hospitalization increase, an increase in the use of ventilators, case increase and percent positivity are worrisome,” Dr. Levine said. “Latest models show we could run out of ICU beds within a week. We know COVID-19 does not discriminate and is affecting every county in the Commonwealth.”

Nov. 20: Murphy says casinos not connected to COVID outbreaks, PA Dept comments on contact tracing and casinos

All nine casinos in Atlantic City remain open. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said there is no evidence casinos are linked outbreaks.

During a briefing on Wednesday, Murphy said:

“We believe, based on the evidence that we have, that they’ve been able to responsibly manage their casino floors. Whether it’s through (personal protective equipment), whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos … there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the floor or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor.”

Casinos in Atlantic City closed from March 16 to July 2 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

PlayPennsylvania asked the Pennsylvania Department of Health if there any statistics about coronavirus cases being traced to the state’s 12 casinos.

A representative from the Department of Health commented:

“In terms of contact tracing specific to any event or specific location, we follow our contact tracing process, which includes case investigation. At this time we are prioritizing case investigations due to the high case load. We maintain regular communication with CDC but handle outbreaks locally. There is no way to determine definitively if cases track to an individual event or location. There is not current evidence from our regular case investigation and contact tracing efforts that indicates outbreaks from these events, but we will continue to monitor.”

Contact tracing, COVID-19 spread in PA

Contact tracing is the process of identifying, notifying, and monitoring anyone who came in close contact with an individual who has COVID-19 while that individual was infectious. As part of the case investigation process, the PA Dept. of Health asks the person who tests positive where they have been during their infectious period and with whom they have come in contact. All of this depends on the person providing as much accurate information as possible.

Between Sunday, November 1 and Saturday, November 7, there were 20,985 COVID-19 cases statewide and 25% of all cases had a case investigation started within 24 hours of receiving the positive report.

PJ Brennan, MD,  an infectious disease physician and chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, told the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Anecdotal and contact tracing evidence reveals that weddings, funerals, Halloween parties, and athletic activities have all been implicated in the spread of the virus. And most ominously, many of those affected do not know where they might have been exposed.”

October revenue figures were released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday. Online sports betting and iGaming fueled a 12.87% year-over-year increase in revenue.

With casinos operating at 50% capacity, October’s gross revenue from slot machines was $154.7 million, a 17.22% YoY decrease. Table games at brick-and-mortar casinos took a tumble, too. Table games revenue in October was $63.3 million, a YoY decrease of 13.43%.

Nov. 19: Rivers Philadelphia posts farewell for now on Twitter

Nov. 18: Allegheny County asks residents to stay at home

The Allegheny County Health Department issued a stay-at-home advisory. Citing a “very concerning” rise in cases, Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen asked people to only leave their homes for work, school and essential activities like medical care or grocery shopping.

There’s no information yet on how the stay at home advisory might affect Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, which is currently open and operating at 50% capacity. Also, the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers who play at Heinz Field in Allegheny County in mid-October started allowing about 5,500 fans to attend home games.

Nov. 15: A rough 2020 continues for Rivers Casino Philadelphia, set to close on Nov. 20 until at least Jan. 2

The last casino to reopen in Pennsylvania will be the first to shut down during round two of coronavirus shutdowns. Rivers Casino Philadelphia will close on Friday, Nov. 20, and not reopen until at least Jan. 2, 2021, to comply with a series of changes to the current restrictions by the City of Philadelphia to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases.

“We may be tired of COVID, but COVID’s not tired of us,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley.

The city of Philadelphia on Monday afternoon announced a Department of Public Health order that imposes many business restrictions effective Nov. 20-Jan. 1, including the shutdown of casinos within the city. Rivers Casino Philadelphia is the only one within city limits for now. Live! Casino Philadelphia is scheduled to complete construction and open its new location in South Philadelphia in early 2021.

The South Philadelphia Race and Sportsbook, according to the orders, would also have to temporarily close.

Fans are also prohibited from Lincoln Financial Field again. Under the “Safer at Home” order, outdoor gatherings cannot exceed 2,000 people in any outdoor space.

Nov. 13: No plans to return to color coding for PA

PlayPennsylvania asked the PA Department of Health if the increasing COVID-19 case numbers would signal a return to the color-coded phases and possible temporary closures for casinos in Pennsylvania.

A representative responded:

“There is no plan at this time to return to the red, yellow, green mitigation steps and stay-at-home order that occurred in the spring.”

This, of course, is subject to change. Check back often for additional updates.

Lead image courtesy of Rivers 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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