Gambling and social distancing? Not quite yet in Las Vegas, which at this point is only gearing up for ‘pre-opening’ procedures, including mass COVID-19 testing of gaming employees as they prepare to get called back to work. The Las Vegas strip began shuttering in mid-March (similar to East coast spots), a devastating blow nearly unprecedented in history, and at a total cost of hundreds of millions per week in revenue lost.
However, as the WSJ details, casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi are opening for the first time since ‘stay at home’ orders were issued. All eyes are on gambling in the south — and what greatly altered ‘COVID-safe’ casinos and social distancing protocols will look like in this context — and as a marker for what’s expected later in larger gaming Meccas like Atlantic City, which has seen hotels only begin taking reservations for mid-June.
Lockdown-weary gamblers are ready for the good times to roll, already driving hours to wait in long lines for newly opened – as of Monday – casinos in Louisiana. Neighboring Mississippi will open its casinos on Thursday.
After two months of closure, “Initial openings will clearly spur people to come out of their homes,” comments Michael Pollock, managing director of consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group. “How much they will spend and how frequently they will visit are tied to larger economic trends.”
Just how many will flock to the newly-reopened venues long-term remains to be seen, given the experience could be very ‘different’ – complete with new inconveniences like temperature checks, sanitizing stations in the center of casino floors, contactless procedures utilizing iPhone apps, masks, cycling through new decks more frequently, and limited capacity (such as 25-50% entry limitations, depending on the state).
One local report details the greatly altered and perhaps bizarre regimen in place at Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge:
The dealer sprays the dice with a bottle of disinfectant and a masked gambler leans into the craps table, his cheekbones raised in a grin.
“Leave ’em wet,” he tells the dealer. “They won’t roll as much.”
The dealer looks back sharply, her hands reaching for a nearby roll of paper towels…
The dealer must wipe the dice.
That’s the only way these three men can alter the portions of chips that each rest in one of the table’s six wooden placeholders, every other one sealed shut with black masking tape.
Louisiana’s casinos are now open, but it’s not business as usual.
? Dealers wipe down dice.
? Casinos hand out masks.
? Blackjack dealers throw out cards more frequently.
— The Advocate (@theadvocatebr) May 19, 2020
Regardless, by current indicators eager people are flocking, even driving hours, especially out of major cities in Texas:
Shirley Martinez, 45 years old, drove two hours from her home in Houston to Lake Charles, La., with her sister and 85-year-old mother for the casinos’ reopening on Monday. Her mother was ready to play slots after being on lockdown—with hand sanitizer and masks in tow. “She said, ‘It’s open, let’s go,’” Ms. Martinez said.
“It’s going to take time,” American Gaming Association chief executive Bill Miller told WSJ. “The experience is going to be different for some period of time, appropriately, but I think that the industry will get its swagger back.”
Meanwhile other states are eagerly awaiting the go-ahead to open back up, but determinant on state gaming boards and health authorities reviewing the new stringent social distancing protocols.
Needless to say the state lockdowns have been devastating for the gaming industry given casinos pretty much never close in more normal times.
For March and April revenues for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware – as an example – dropped more than 75% to $264 million from $1.1 billion, according to the consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group.