The coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of Pennsylvania’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos in mid-March.
On May 20, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board released “COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols.” The 10-page document details the minimum safety and health-related requirements mandatory before reopening.
PGCB Executive Director Kevin O’Toole said the new operational requirements presented by the PGCB are based on best-practice guidelines, along with the various plans presented by gaming companies operating in Pennsylvania. They are “subject to amendment” as casinos get closer to reopening.
O’Toole commented in a press release:
“We believe this plan will be effective in mitigating and reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all employees, patrons, and other guests. As conditions throughout the Commonwealth improve and the reopening of casinos is authorized, the PGCB desires to assure (those) reopenings occur in a manner which promotes the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight.”
Safety guidelines for PA casinos
Like many other places, casinos in Pennsylvania are adapting to keep guests and employees and safe. Your next visit will look different.
Guests visiting a casino in Pennsylvania will be required to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. For security reasons, patrons will be asked to remove their hats or lower their masks upon entrance temporarily.
Other main points include:
- Markings on the floor to promote six-feet social distancing.
- Occupancy rates that are sufficient to maintain social distancing guidelines.
- Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available throughout the gaming floor.
- Enhanced cleaning throughout the facility.
- Poker rooms are not authorized to operate due to players handling of cards and chips. Poker room operations will be re-examined based upon changing CDC and PA DOH guidance.
- Each casino needs to identify an employee as a pandemic safety officer.
- The casino staff stationed at entrance points will receive training on recognizing possible signs of illness, and instructed to routinely ask such persons if they have had a fever or contact with anyone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days, and whether they are feeling ill. Affirmative answers to any of the questions will result in refusing admittance to the casino on that day.
Safety at slots and table games in the time of COVID-19
To promote social distancing between slot machines, casinos are given a few choices:
- Install a plexiglass barrier between machines.
- Remove chairs from certain machines.
- Disable certain slot machines.
- Slot machines should be wiped frequently with a disinfectant solution when not being played. Sanitizing wipes should be available for players to clean the machine before using it.
Casinos will be required to implement social distancing between players at table games:
- There will be no congregating around table games.
- High touchpoints like table bumpers/armrests, card shoes, dice, etc., require frequent sanitizing.
- Chips cleaned and sanitized daily.
- Casinos may use alternative procedures that limit players touching chips and cards and may utilize clear plexiglass barriers between players and the dealer upon notice to the Bureau of Casino Compliance.
Casino employee COVID-19 safety
Pennsylvania’s casinos employ 17,000 people, most of whom have been impacted by temporary closures.
Key points for casino employee safety:
- Employees must wear masks. They can wear clear translucent gloves if they choose.
- COVID-19 training.
- Any employee who thinks they have coronavirus should report it through a process implemented by a pandemic safety officer.
- At each employee entrance, employees may be required to undergo a temperature check.
- At each employee entrance, there will be posted signs with a checklist of COVID-19 symptoms. Signs will instruct employees to go home if they are experiencing any symptoms.
- Employees who frequently have public contact will receive reoccurring breaks to wash and/or sanitize their hands to reduce the risk of surface transmission.
- Environmental services employees will be provided with masks, gloves, and disinfectant liquid/spray to enable effective cleaning of all touch surfaces.
Dramatic revenue drop for PA casinos
Since casinos were only open about half of the month, gaming revenue dropped 51% from February to March. Closed for the entirety of April, land-based casinos reported zero revenue. To add to the pain, the PGCB reported total gaming tax revenue was down 84% year-over-year comparing to April 2019.
On Wednesday, O’Toole acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt Pennsylvania’s casino industry an unexpected and unprecedented blow over the last few months. He expressed PGCB’s commitment to assisting Pennsylvania’s licensed casino operators and facilities to reopen safely and efficiently.
“We fully anticipate that we will work with the industry as it seeks to become, once again, an economic engine for Pennsylvania and to restore the first-rate entertainment facilities each of our licensees have developed.”
When will casinos in PA open?
Pennsylvania is following a three-phase, color-coded plan for reopening. By May 22, 49 counties will be in the “yellow phase.” However, casinos cannot begin to reopen until the “green phase.” Since moving to the next phase is determined by a number of criteria, there is no set date to reopen any casino in Pennsylvania.
The casinos in the yellow phase (and their counties) are:
- Presque Isle Downs (Erie)
- Rivers Casino Pittsburgh (Allegheny)
- Lady Luck Nemacolin (Fayette)
- The Meadows (Washington)
During the most recent PGCB meeting on April 29, O’Toole said they started discussing with casino operators the plans for the eventual reopening of land-based casino facilities.
“There is an anxiousness among all of our staff to continue the process toward reopening land-based casinos as well as VGT gaming at approved truck stops. At this time, we do not know specifically when state and local government, in consultation with health experts, will give the OK for casinos to reopen. We hope that day will come fairly soon.”
Wind Creek Casino indicated that when they do reopen, they will be implementing a reservation system.
Casinos across the country begin to reopen
By the end of March, for the first time in history, all 989 commercial and tribal casino properties in the US closed. As the country begins to reopen gradually, so do casinos. As of May 20, 100 casinos welcomed back guests.
On May 12, the US News and World Report said hundreds of patrons lined up to enter the Thunderbird Casino in Norman, OK. The casino implemented social distancing, sanitation safeguards and limited entry to about 200 people, which is about one-third of capacity.
According to CNBC, 11 casinos in Deadwood, SD, were among the first to open and guests were eager to return. Occupancy was between 85%-90%, with many people driving in from surrounding states.
On Monday, three casinos in Baton Rouge, LA, welcomed back guests for the first time in over two months. Lines of people waited outside before they opened their doors at 8 a.m.
In terms of total gaming revenue in 2018, Louisiana ranked fifth behind Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.