Pennsylvania is slowly emerging from its coronavirus-induced slumber. After being closed for eighty-five days and counting, slots will jingle and dice will tumble at Rivers Casino Pittsburgh on June 9. It could’t come a moment sooner for Rivers Pittsburgh General Manager Bill Keena.
“What you are seeing now is completely different than two weeks ago,” said Keena during a media tour of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh ahead of their reopening to the public. “Imagine the same place but with all the machines and signs turned off. It was dark. It was eerie. It was surreal.”
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh in Allegheny County moved into the green phase on June 5 which permits casinos to resume operations. They will be the first casino to reopen in Pennsylvania when it welcomes back guests on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
“We are ready to get back,” said Keena.
Not 24/7 to start
Visitors should expect a different experience from their previous visit.
To start, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh will not operate 24/7.
The updated hours are:
- Weekdays: 9 a.m. – 4 a.m.
- Friday: 9 a.m. through Monday at 4 a.m.
Keena commented on the always-on operations of casinos taking a pause:
“It’s new for all. We are all going to be learning as we go along. I’ve been in this business for a long time and have never been faced with anything like this. We have worked so closely with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board who have been so good through all of this. We may need to change it after a week. The reason we picked it is they are our slowest hours. If the business and demand is there, we will revert back to 24/7.”
Property-wide deep cleaning and continuous sanitizing is planned for the time the casino is closed.
Health and safety plans
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh “met or exceeded” the new Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols released May 19 and will operate at 50% capacity until further notice.
Key points of the PGCB guidelines for all casinos include:
- Gaming floor limited to 50% capacity
- Guests and employees must wear masks
- No poker rooms to start
- Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes available throughout the gaming floor.
A new initiative, “Rivers Clean,” represents a rigorous property-wide cleaning and disinfectant program to help stop the spread of coronavirus. According to a press release from Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, previously, the Environmental Services Team worked in traditional shifts to clean the property. The newly-named team has expanded and now has overlapping shifts, EPA-approved disinfectants and more commercial cleaning equipment.
Prior to reopening, the property underwent a deep cleaning which included sanitizing 2,608 slot machines and 220,000 chips.
“We’ve reexamined our entire operation with extra care wherever guests and team members interact. Preserving the health and well being of our community is job one. That’s the mission of the Rivers Clean Team – and all of us.”
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh new guidelines
When Rivers Casino Pittsburgh opens, employees and guests will begin to navigate unchartered waters.
Here are some things to keep in mind on your next visit Rivers Casino Pittsburgh:
- Fuchsia is the color of clean. Fuchsia (a.k.a. pink) indicates signage directing guests to the 140 new hand sanitizing stations and disinfectant wipes. Also, members of the Rivers Clean team sport the shirts.
- If you have gaming chips from prior visits, bring to cashier to be exchanged before sitting down at a table game.
- No eating or smoking at live table games.
- Prior to sitting at a live table, all guests must use hand sanitizer.
- Table game seating has been modified to promote social distancing. There will be four spots at Roulette, three spots at Blackjack, and six spots at Craps. Twelve blackjack tables have been added in the poker room. At slot machines, every other chair is removed.
“Guests are able to lower their masks while smoking, drinking and eating,” said Keena. “We are not going to allow smoking to start with at our table games. However, it could change. A lot of our guests do like to smoke so we could pivot on that.”
No poker rooms in PA for now
The first casinos in Pennsylvania announced reopening dates. Rivers Casino Pittsburgh will welcome back guests on June 9 at 9 a.m. The Meadows Casino in Washington County will open on Tuesday, June 9 at 12 p.m. Lady Luck Nemacolin opens Friday, June 12 at 10 a.m.
For starters, all casinos in PA will operate at 50% capacity and poker rooms will remain closed.
PGCB Director of Communication Doug Harbach said poker rooms present a different type of challenge since people are sitting close together in a room.
“The casinos want to walk before they run and make sure they are getting the venue open and then move on to opening up other areas once they know the protocols are working well.”
Impact of PA casino closures
The length of time casinos have remained closed is unprecedented. It has severely impacted casinos’ revenues, taxes, surrounding communities and the people employed by the state’s casinos. The American Gaming Association reports that the casino gaming industry in the state supports more than 33,000 jobs and has a total economic impact of $6.3 billion.
Tax revenue fell nearly $106 million in Pennsylvania from January ($124 million) to April ($18.3 million).
“In our regulatory functions we have placed protocols for these casinos at a minimum to follow guidelines. They are certainly doing that. We think it’s important at some point to get these casinos functioning. Safety is the biggest issue. But you also have an industry where thousands of people are out of work and are getting to come back to work. The revenue lost by the industry’s closure – north of $100 million per year statewide just in tax revenue – is going to start to return.”
American Gaming Association SVP of strategic communications Casey Clark said:
“The tax implications are massive. Communities across the state will feel the shortfall in gaming revenue. It’s not just going to be in the areas around the casinos. The impact is going to be far-reaching. It will have a long and lasting impact on our industry and the people who rely on us.”
Pennsylvania slot and table games total revenue and taxes
Pennsylvania taxes slots at 54% and table games at 16%. It’s a much higher rate than New Jersey which taxes at a rate of 8% for both.
|Slot machine revenue
|Slot tax revenue
|Table games revenue
|Table games tax revenue
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh ranks near the top in revenue in PA
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh usually ranks third in total revenue for land-based casinos behind Parx Casino and Wind Creek Bethlehem. In 2019, they posted a total of $392 million in total revenue and 9% increase from the previous year.
Rivers Casino Pittsburgh total gaming revenue in 2020:
- January 2020: $34,510,647
- February 2020: $34,608,559
- March 2020: $15,425,460
- April 2020: $0
Can Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, which usually has a capacity of about 9,000, still be profitable at 50% capacity?
“Yes, absolutely,” said Keena. “If you would have asked me two months ago what level of business, I would have said 30%. There is no way we are going to be at that. I think we are going to be at 65-70%. I think we’ll be back to a sense of normalcy rather quickly.”