Pennsylvania Casino Closings and Reopening Plans Part 2: Updated Jan. 15

Written By Katie Kohler on November 18, 2020 - Last Updated on May 19, 2021

Casinos in Pennsylvania are once again closing due to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases. All PA casinos will be closed from Dec. 12. until Jan. 4, and possibly longer.

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.

Pennsylvania casino closures in spring/summer 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 had reopened

Are casinos in Pennsylvania open?

All 12 PA casinos had to close again Dec. 12 for at least three weeks (until Jan. 4).

The schedule for casino reopenings follows.

Casinos in Pennsylvania reopening on Jan. 4 at 8 a.m.:

  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh 
  • The Meadows and Hollywood Casino according to PennLive
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • Harrah’s Philadelphia
  • Wind Creek Bethlehem
  • Live! Casino Pittsburgh
  • Parx Casino (9 a.m.)
  • Mohegan Sun Pocono (10 a.m.)
  • Valley Forge Casino Resort ( 11 a.m.)
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia (4 p.m.)

Opening on Tuesday, Jan. 5:

  • Presque Isle Downs & Casino at 4 p.m.

Opening on Friday, Jan 8:

  • Lady Luck Nemacolin at 9 a.m.

Jan. 15: Rivers Casino Philadelphia resumes indoor dining

Indoor dining resumes this weekend at Rivers Casino Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia eased some restrictions so a few restaurants will resume operations inside the casino.

Indoor dining starts again on Saturday at noon for the following restaurants at Rivers and reservations are suggested:

  • Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House
  • Jack’s Bar + Grill
  • Mian

Restaurant capacity remains limited to 25%. Masks may be removed while eating and drinking in restaurant areas only. Seating is limited to four guests per table. All other restaurants and bars at Rivers Casino Philadelphia remain closed at this time. 

Rivers Casino General Manager Eric Fitzgerald said in a press release:

“We’re excited that three of our signature restaurants can now reopen. We’re especially happy to welcome back our food and beverage Team Members. The well-being of our guests and Team Members remains our top priority.”

Jan. 14: Preview of Live! Casino Philadelphia

Live! Casino Philadelphia, a $700 million project, will open on January 19, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. with a series of reservation-only preview days for Live! Rewards Club members. Following the preview days and pending approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Live! Casino Philadelphia will open to the general public on Feb. 11 at 8:00 p.m.

PlayPennsylvania toured Pennsylvania’s newest casino on Thursday.

Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, who was leading much of the tour, said the facility’s aim is “affordable luxury” while also being “aggressively safe” about opening while the COVID-19 pandemic remains a reality.

Jan. 4: Pennsylvania casinos back in action

Some scenes from the reopenings of casinos in Pennsylvania:

 

 

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Jan. 2: Rivers Casino Philadelphia will reopen on Jan. 4 per amended orders

Rivers Casino Philadelphia reopened on Mon. Jan 4 at 4 p.m. due to Gov. Wolf’s announcement earlier in the week and amended orders from the City of Philadelphia permitting casinos to reopen. Rivers Casino Philadelphia will be open 24/7.

According to a Saturday morning press release, approximately 970 employees will return and more may follow as business levels return. Rivers Casino Philadelphia currently employs approximately 1,420.

“Welcoming back our Team Members and guests safely is our top priority,” said Rivers Casino General Manager Eric Fitzgerald. “We’re very grateful to the community for its support, and we thank the City of Philadelphia for its continued confidence and guidance.”

Restaurants and bars at Rivers Casino Philadelphia remain closed, per the citywide orders. Smoking is temporarily not permitted at all PA casinos however designated outdoor areas are available.

The poker room will also reopen on Jan. 4.

Jan 1: Parx CEO says “no data supports the closure of casinos,” discusses reopening

Parx Casino’s CEO Eric Hausler penned a letter in the Bucks County Courier Times describing the Bensalem casino’s COVID mitigation ahead of reopening and disappointment around Gov. Wolf’s recent orders.

It read in part:

“We were disappointed with the governor’s orders because we believe that Parx Casino is one of the safest environments for workers and guests anywhere in the state. In fact, I am confident that the state’s 14 casinos have set the bar for any entertainment venue or public facility. As we look ahead to reopening, it is important that readers are aware of the specific measures and protocols we have taken.”

Hausler also discussed casinos and contact tracing.

“It is critical for Pennsylvanians to understand that the state Department of Health has reported no data that supports the closure of casinos. The state’s tracking system does not include casinos as a specific category of concern, so they have no direct data regarding our industry. Casinos, then, are included in the ‘some other business establishment.’ Of the positive cases reported, only 0.1% of these individuals reported spending time in ‘some other business establishment.'”

Hausler isn’t the only one to say casinos aren’t linked to COVID outbreaks. During a Nov. 18 press briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said there is no evidence Atlantic City casinos are connected to coronavirus outbreaks.

Dec. 31: Casinos in PA set to reopen on Jan. 4

Casinos in Pennsylvania reopening on Jan. 4 at 8 a.m.:

  • Rivers Casino Pittsburgh 
  • The Meadows and Hollywood Casino according to PennLive
  • Mount Airy Casino
  • Harrah’s Philadelphia
  • Wind Creek Bethlehem
  • Live! Casino Pittsburgh
  • Parx Casino (9 a.m.)
  • Mohegan Sun Pocono (10 a.m.)
  • Valley Forge Casino Resort ( 1 a.m.)
  • Rivers Casino Philadelphia (4 p.m.)

Opening on Tuesday, Jan. 5:

  • Presque Isle Downs & Casino at 4 p.m.

Opening on Friday, Jan 8:

  • Lady Luck Nemacolin at 9 a.m.

When casinos in PA reopen, they will still follow the COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols, which detail the minimum safety and health-related requirements that are mandatory before reopening.

Key points include:

  • 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.
  • Smoking is temporarily not permitted at PA casinos
  • Sales of alcoholic beverages are temporarily not permitted on the casino floor. They can purchased at restaurants.

Dec. 30: Recent restrictions set to be lifted on Jan. 4

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Gov. Wolf announced that mitigation restrictions put in place back on Dec. 12, including the closures of casinos, will be lifted Monday, January 4 at 8:00 a.m.

Wolf cited the reason as positive signs including a positivity rate that went down for the second week in a row.

“While hospitalizations and deaths remain entirely too high, it appears that the number of new cases each day has plateaued,” said Wolf.

As of now, by order of the city of Philadelphia, Rivers Casino Philadelphia will remain closed until at least Jan. 15.

Dec. 29: Casinos in Pennsylvania won’t open before Jan. 4

Pennsylvania’s casinos (and one mini-casino) were ordered to close for three weeks with a scheduled lift date of Jan. 4. Rivers Casino Philadelphia, as noted below, will remain closed through Jan. 15 per restrictions from the city of Philadelphia.

In a Monday press conference, Dr. Rachel Levine said restrictions put in place two weeks wouldn’t be lifted before Jan. 4. She did not give any indications about if the restrictions will extend beyond that date. 

Said Levine:

“We’ll be having those discussions with the Governor’s Office and making our recommendations obviously this week in preparation for January 4.”

Dec. 29: WARN notices from casinos in PA

The following is a list of casinos that have issued Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN Act) notices to its currently furloughed team members since August 2020. Under WARN, employers with 100 or more full-time workers must provide written notice at least sixty (60) calendar days in advance of covered plan closings and mass layoffs.

December:

Presque Isle Downs

  • Number of employees affected: 434 – this amount includes 125 previously furloughed employees displaced March 25.
  • Temporary layoff due to Governor’s 3-week closure order.

Lady Luck Nemacolin

  • Number of employees affected: 197
  • Temporary layoff due to Governor’s 3-week shutdown order

October:

Hollywood Casino

  • Number of employees affected: 18
  • Permanent layoff due to COVID-19

August:

Rivers Casino Philadelphia

  • Number of employees affected: 9
  • Layoff (Expected to be permanent in nature due to COVID-19)

Dec. 22: Rivers Philadelphia reopening pushed back. Amid uncertainty, when will Live! Casino Philadelphia open?

Philadelphia extended the date of coronavirus restrictions which closed Rivers Casino Philadelphia and stopped indoor dining. Instead of Jan. 4, the date has been pushed to Jan. 15. Health commissioner Thomas Farley cited holiday case spikes creating more stress on the city’s hospitals as the reason.

On Dec. 22, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 7,962 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 571,551. The trend in the 14-day moving average of number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 5,500 since the end of September.

Live! Casino Philadelphia is set to open in “early 2021” according to casino reps. Some sources say they are planning for the third week in January or beginning of February. Of course, coronavirus restrictions will play a factor into the final decision.

Dec. 22: American Gaming Association, Gov. Wolf release statement about second round of relief, say work still needs to be done

American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller issued the following statement in response to Congress passing new COVID-19 relief measures:

“The American Gaming Association is encouraged that Congress has come together to pass bipartisan legislation, which provides important relief for many Americans and businesses that continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic.

While this much-needed aid is a significant step, it is imperative that the next Congress act swiftly on additional measures to address the economic challenges facing our nation and our industry.

Gaming communities, companies, and employees across the country have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic—enduring mandated closures and operating restrictions, investing heavily in health and safety protocols, and playing a key role in stopping the community spread of COVID. We’ve met these challenges with resolve and resilience.

Congress must do their part to provide meaningful relief for businesses and their communities, whose vitality are inextricably linked. Gaming companies support nearly two million American jobs, provide critical tax revenue, and serve as economic engines in communities all across America.

The AGA looks forward to working with the Biden administration and 117th Congress in the new year to provide tax relief that will save gaming jobs and alleviate costs, liability protections that advance responsible reopening, incentives for reviving travel and tourism, and essential support for tribal nations.”

Gov. Wolf thanked congressional lawmakers for passing a second federal COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package. However, he reminded them that there is still work to be done. His statement read in part:

“Now, as our commonwealth and our nation face an unprecedented surge of COVID-19, this new aid package is a necessary step toward meeting the needs of our people and helping Pennsylvania families and businesses survive the upheaval caused by this dangerous virus. I thank all the members of Congress who worked to pass this bipartisan package.

“It is a vital step in our efforts to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians, but it cannot be the last step. More funding is needed for restaurants and bars, as well as the service industry more broadly. More funding is needed for direct payments to individuals and families. More funding is needed for state and local governments and the critical services they provide.

“Nine months passed between the CARES Act and this second COVID-19 relief package. For our congressional leaders, I have one plea: Do not let your constituents suffer for another nine months without the additional aid they desperately need.”

Dec. 16: Wind Creek will pay employees during closure

Wind Creek Bethlehem announced that during its temporary closure, it plans to pay active salaried and tipped employees.

Dec. 15: Execs ask Wolf to let casinos stay open

Pennsylvania casino executives sent Governor Tom Wolf a two-page letter on Dec. 9 asking him to not close the state’s 12 casinos in a new round of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. They cited the impact another round of closures will have on the 18,000 industry employees, vendors, tax revenue, logistics of a short-notice shutdown and customers leaving to play in other states with still-open casinos.

Dec. 11: Penn National pleads with Wolf; Portnoy berates politicians

Penn Live reported that Penn National execs pleaded with Gov. Wolf to keep casinos in PA open. Penn National Gaming is headquartered in Wyomissing, PA, and operates two casinos in the commonwealth: The Meadows and Hollywood Casino.

Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool, had some harsh words for New York, which also shut down indoor dining. It’s fair to assume that Portnoy feels the same about Pennsylvania, since they have similar restrictions. Penn National Gaming acquired a 36% stake in Barstool Sports for $163 million in cash and stock in January 2020. Penn National, through the Hollywood Casino license, launched Barstool Sportsbook in PA.

Dec. 11: Harrah’s Philadelphia memo to employees

Play Pennsylvania obtained an internal memo from General Manager Chris Albrecht to all Harrah’s Philadelphia team members.

It addressed the upcoming temporary closure and read in part:

“I want to put your minds at ease regarding your pay and benefits. The company will pay all currently active Team Members average wages through the indicated reopening date. Pay will be based on your average wage over the past 8 weeks. There will be changes in pay for salaried Team Members. For those Team Members on the company sponsored health plan, your health care and benefits will continue as normal.”

Dec. 10: PGCB follows up governor’s announcement

Shortly after Gov. Wolf announced increased mitigation efforts that included closing all casinos in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said it will be working with casinos on closing procedures.

Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole says that public health and the safety of patrons, casino employees and others are of paramount importance.

“The board is continuously monitoring developments and will update licensees and the public as frequently as possible with any new developments,” O’Toole says.

The PGCB also ordered the closure of Video Gaming Terminal (VGTs) rooms located in truck stop establishments in Pennsylvania starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12. There are a total of 40 truck stop establishments, and each operates the maximum allowable five machines.

The closures do not affect other forms of gaming regulated by the PGCB, which include the commonwealth’s 13 online casinos, 10 online sportbook apps and fantasy contests.

Dec. 10: Casinos, indoor dining, other indoor entertainment facilities to close for three weeks starting Dec. 12

Gov. Wolf announced in a press conference Thursday afternoon that increased measures need to be taken once again to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He called the recent spikes in cases “dire,” saying the current situation is worse than what PA experienced in the spring.

All 12 Pennsylvania casinos (plus the new Live! Pittsburgh mini-casino) have been ordered to close beginning Saturday, Dec. 12. To start, the mandate runs for three weeks, with a scheduled lift date of Jan. 4.

Casinos fall in the category of “indoor entertainment industry” included in the new wave of closures. Gyms and indoor dining are also axed for the next three weeks minimum. The CDC puts movie theaters and other indoor settings on its list of higher-risk activities for contracting COVID-19.

Also via Twitter, Wolf explained the need for the extreme measures:

“COVID thrives where people gather together. The measures announced today will target high-risk environments and aim to slow the devastating spread of the virus.”

At Thursday afternoon’s press conference, Dr. Rachel Levine said:

“Each of the last two days, we have reported the highest number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. In the past week, we have reported close to 1,100 new deaths from COVID-19 across Pennsylvania. The virus continues to strain our health care systems, and the dramatic rise in cases among all age groups, including among school-age children, is alarming. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 37,500 cases among children age 5 to 18, yet 9,500 of those cases occurred in the past two weeks.”

Dec. 8: More restrictions coming?

Coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 10,170 new cases on Tuesday. The state is now averaging 9,925 new cases a day over the past seven days. The trend in the 14-day moving average of number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 4,000 since the end of September.

On Monday, Gov. Wolf said more restrictions might be on the way. He acknowledged the ones already in place have not worked.

“If the worst happens, hospitals will not be able to treat all sick Pennsylvanians. They’ll be forced to turn away people who need treatment, and that means more Pennsylvanians will die.”

However, Wolf seemed to rule out the restrictions rolled out in the spring that closed schools and nonessential businesses like casinos.

Allegheny County, home of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, is considering a change to capacity limits.

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, Cameron County, at 1.9%.

“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-19 outbreaks, Health 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 are 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 [the] 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 Department 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, Nov. 1 and Saturday, Nov. 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 PGCB 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.

Katie Kohler Avatar
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Katie Kohler

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

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