After a nearly four-month shutdown, eight of the city’s nine casinos vowed Tuesday to continue with plans to reopen by week’s end, despite Monday’s trio of surprise announcements by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy adding to restrictions.
The governor’s backtrack on allowing indoor dining to resume later this week caused Atlantic City’s highest-performing casino, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, to postpone its plans to reopen.
“Our guests expect a special experience when they come to our property, and if we cannot provide that level of hospitality, we feel it best that we remain closed until such time that the governor lets us know it is safe to offer food and beverage,” a statement from Borgata’s parent company, MGM Resorts International, read Monday. Borgata had initially planned to welcome back invited guests July 2 for a “friends and family” soft opening before the general public would be permitted back July 6.
In a late-evening executive order, Murphy prohibited food and beverage consumption, including alcohol, and smoking in any entertainment, retail or recreational establishment. On Tuesday, Murphy said casinos will just have to endure a new reality until conditions improve. “It’s not a life sentence,” he said. “We would like to be full-bore open — we’re just not there yet.”
Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts, said the industry was disappointed by Murphy’s decisions but understood the reasoning given increases in positive cases of COVID-19 in the South and West. He said the casino industry will “make the best of it,” The Press of Atlantic City reports.
“We think we’re good at monitoring ourselves and making sure people follow rules, and we’re going to do that,” Callender said Tuesday. “And I think you’ll find that people that are coming here now will have their masks on, will be social distancing and, hopefully, within a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to go back to letting people have something to drink on the floor or dine indoors.”
Five casinos — Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Ocean Casino Resort, Resorts Casino Hotel and Tropicana — will reopen to the general public Thursday. Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City will permit Seven Stars members to return Thursday before opening to the public Friday.
Atlantic City casinos can resume business at 25% capacity, according to state guidelines. The state has yet to release industry-wide health and safety protocols, but Murphy has said masks will be required by everyone on property.
Individually, the properties will be taking temperature screenings for all employees, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing will take place, increased signage will be visible encouraging social distancing, and tables and slots will be limited. Nightclubs, live entertainment venues and buffets will remain closed.
Callender, on behalf of the casino association, issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying: “This is a critical moment for our industry. Atlantic City has seen strong gains in recent years, which were abruptly halted because of this global health and economic crisis. We know rebuilding from this crisis won’t be easy, but we are committed to helping Atlantic City and New Jersey recover and continue the revitalization of this world-class resort destination.”
Initially, indoor dining was scheduled to resume the same day as the casinos. But Murphy said the public’s noncompliance with masks and social distancing forced his hand. The smoking ban caught the industry by surprise, Callender and other casino executives said. The casinos still intend to offer food and beverage options for guests, but nothing can be consumed on the gaming floor. Takeout food must either be taken back to a hotel room or outside the casino.
On Tuesday, the head of the local casino workers union weighed in on the impact Murphy’s orders will have on the industry. “Honestly, I don’t know why the casinos would open,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, the labor union that represents nearly 10,000 hospitality workers in Atlantic City casinos. “It’s like running a hot dog stand with no condiments and no buns.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney asked: “Who wants to go to a casino if you can’t get dinner or a drink?” after hearing Murphy’s order Monday. Sweeney took to social media Tuesday to highlight the impact on casino workers. “The ban of indoor dining is having a direct impact on the health of the tens of thousands of casino workers losing their health care after today,” he tweeted.