At Rivers Casino Philadelphia over the weekend, a patron thirsty for an adult beverage walked up to the bar at the BetRivers Sportsbook and asked for a beer.
“Sorry. You have to order food with that. You can get a hot dog for $2,” the bartender replied.
It wasn’t an up-sell. It’s just the way things are right now at casinos in Philadelphia. The alcohol with purchase rule has been part of increased COVID-19 mitigation orders since casinos started reopening in the summer.
It appeared the order was finally reaching last call. Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf loosened more restrictions and expanded capacity limits. Casinos in Pennsylvania could raise capacity from 50% to 75%, resume bar service and offer alcohol without the purchase of food on April 4.
However, Philadelphia, which has always been a bit stricter in terms of COVID-19 measures, did not say whether they would follow suit with the rest of the state. About a week later, the city decided it would keep the current rules in place.
Philadelphia casinos still can’t have bar service or alcohol without food
On March 23, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said that the city will not follow the rest of the state in relaxing restrictions on April 4. He cited rising case counts and hospitalizations as the reason.
The two casinos in the city limits, Rivers Casino Philadelphia and the new Live! Casino Philadelphia along with the South Philadelphia Race & Sportsbook, are subject to the city’s rules.
The city of Philadelphia only recently lifted the restriction which banned water and soft drinks on the casino floor. Not being able to have any drinks is a huge disadvantage for Philadelphia-based casinos. Guests can choose to go to Atlantic City (where all drinks including alcohol is permitted) or to a casino in the suburbs where they can at least sip on soda or coffee.
In an interview with PlayPennsylvania yesterday, when asked about the possible return of full drink service to casinos in Philadelphia, Mario Maesano, SVP of Slots and Marketing at Live! Casino Philadelphia said:
“Philadelphia, historically through the COVID pandemic, has been more conservative. We follow their guidelines. We are anxious to hear if they will follow the overall state guidelines.”
Updated rules for drinking at PA casinos and restaurants
Effective April 4:
- Casino capacity in PA raised from 50% to 75%.
- Restaurants may resume bar service.
- Alcohol service will be allowed without the purchase of food.
- The curfew for removing alcoholic drinks from tables will be lifted.
- Indoor dining capacity will be raised to 75% for those restaurants that are currently self-certified and those that undergo the self-certification process, which involves agreeing to strictly comply to all public health safety guidelines and orders, including the cleaning and mitigation protocols and other operational requirements contained in the Governor and Secretary of Health’s mitigation and enforcement orders issued on November 23, 2020, as amended. Those restaurants that do not self-certify may raise capacity to 50%.
- Outdoor dining, curbside pick-up and takeout are still encouraged.
- Requirements such as mask-wearing, and social distancing, including 6 feet between diners still apply.
No drinks hurt casino revenue and staff
PlayPennsylvania reported that the current rules about drinking at casinos puzzled casino execs and lawmakers.
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.
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. That marked the longest coronavirus-caused closure of any brick-and-mortar casino in PA. Rivers Philadelphia 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 and spoke on behalf of Rivers Pittsburgh and Rivers Philadelphia casinos at the meeting.
Revenues are down 35% for the first six weeks of 2021 compared to the first six weeks of 2020. Employment at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is down by more than 35%.
“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.”
FAQs about drinking at PA casinos
Casinos in the state are currently operating at reduced capacity, have mandatory mask-wearing for visitors and employees with numerous health and safety measures mandated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Casinos can also employ additional measures such as temperature screenings.
Casino visitors have questions about the current rules and PlayPennsylvania is answering some FAQs.
What can you drink on the floor at PA casinos?
Soft drinks, water, coffee, and tea.
Starting on April 4, full beverage service will be back with alcoholic beverages but not in Philadelphia casinos.
How can I get alcoholic drinks at a PA casino?
Go to one of the restaurants or bars and order it with a meal. However, this rule ends on April 4. Then you can get a beer/wine/mixed drink at a bar or restaurant (without food) and drink service will return to the gaming floor.
Why are the rules more strict in Philadelphia?
Philadelphia casinos Rivers Philadelphia and the Live! Casino Philadelphia have stricter measures due to being subject to additional measures from the City of Philadelphia.
They will not resume alcohol sales on bar service on April 4.
A PlayPennsylvania writer visited Rivers Casino Philadelphia and Live! Philadelphia and was able to consume soft drinks at the sportsbook and on the casino floor.
When will drink service resume?
April 4, 2021 for non-Philadelphia city casinos.
What about smoking at PA casinos?
There is currently no indoor smoking at any PA casinos. There are areas outside available for smoking. At places like Wind Creek, guests do not have to be “re-screened” by a temperature check when they re-enter after going to the designated outside area to smoke.