Casinos in several states were closed or under more restrictions as a second wave Covid-19 surged across the country. The closures follow many European countries going into second lockdowns, shuttering casinos and betting shops. All of the closures had starting and ending dates, but there is no guarantee the lockdowns would expire if the cases of the virus do not decline during those periods
Below are the gaming developments connected to the surging cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. and around the world.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered casinos and numerous businesses, schools, indoor entertainment venues and more to close on Wednesday, November 18 through December 8, under wide-ranging new restrictions aimed at containing surges in Covid-19 cases statewide. As the Covid-19 death rate was expected to reach 1,000 a week, Whitmer said, “We are in the worst moment of this pandemic to date. The situation has never been more dire. We are at the precipice and we need to take some action because as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors, the virus will spread, more people will get sick, and there will be more fatalities.”
Whitmer made the announcement following Michigan’s worst 7-day period the week of November 8, when 44,019 people were newly diagnosed with the virus and 416 died. Exponential growth of the virus is nearly four times higher than it was during the peak of the surge in early April. Hospitals said they are running out of room for Covid-19 patients.
Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon stressed the closures and restrictions are temporary. “The order lasts three weeks and at the end, if we all have done our parts, we will be in a better place. This is not forever. What will be forever will be the deaths of loved ones if we do nothing. If we act now, we can prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed, our front-line heroes from being lost and we can prevent even greater consequences for jobs and our economy.”
Michigan is the first state to order casinos closed since March. Some casinos, since reopening, have voluntarily closed temporarily because of surges in Covid-19. Detroit casinos were among the last to reopen, on August 5, and were limited to 15 percent occupancy.
Six tribal casinos in the Upper Peninsula announced they will close and 18 will remain open. As sovereign nations, tribes are not forced to follow state orders. The Bay Mills Indian Community’s Bay Mills Resort and Casino in Brimley and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ five Kewadin Casinos will close for the 3-week period.
The Hannahville Indian Community’s Island Resort and Casino in Harris will remain open with strict health and safety guidelines; entertainment, including live music and comedy, will be canceled until December 10.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ announced revised hours at its Little River Casino in Manistee—8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily, with 25 percent occupancy. The restaurant, table games and alternate slots will be closed.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians also announced reduced hours at Turtle Creek and Leelanau Sands casinos. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe said its Soaring Eagle Casino Resort will remain open, as well as the Gun Lake Tribe’s casino, but the restaurants, sportsbook counter and table games will be closed.
The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi’s FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek will remain open with ongoing health and safety restrictions, including 20 percent occupancy, fewer gaming positions and no valet parking, poker, bingo or buffet.
The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians’ Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo announced its Kids Quest children’s play area and Cyber Quest Arcade, both closed on March 17, will not reopen.
Unfortunately online and mobile sports betting, although legalized last year, have not yet launched. The legislature’s Joint Committee of Administrative Rules has had the rules since October 8 but none of its 10 members have commented on them. There are not enough legislative days left to get the regulations passed, meaning the process will restart when both chambers reconvene next year.
However, FanDuel and DraftKings are hoping to get a jump on sports betting business in Michigan. Fan Duel is offering bettors who register in advance $100 in free bets, with half going to mobile bets and half to online bets. DraftKings is offering bettors $200 in free bets, also split equally between mobile and online bets.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered casinos and video gambling terminals in restaurants and other venues to close on Friday, November 20 until further notice due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. Before announcing the new restrictions, Pritzker extended for the fifth time the executive order allowing remote registration for sports betting accounts. Under state law, wagerers must register within the first 18 months of legalized sports betting in person to be able to bet online or via smartphone. Pritzker temporarily removed that requirement in June as casinos remained closed due to Covid-19. He has since extended the order several times; this latest extension is expected to last at least until December 12.
The extension of online sports betting registration is bound to help as gambling venues close again for at least one month. It’s the second time Illinois’ 10 casinos and other gambling establishments have been ordered to close to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. Pritzker ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in March when the virus first hit. The state’s casinos were allowed to reopen in early July at half capacity.
Operators affected by the new orders include Caesars Entertainment and Penn National Gaming, which each operate three Illinois casinos; Boyd Gaming and Rush Street Gaming, which each operate one; DraftKings, which has licensed its name to the operators of Casino Queen; and the privately held Jumer’s, which soon will be acquired by Bally’s Corporation.
The new orders also include the 37,459 video gambling machines in 7,135 locations around the state, including bars, taverns, restaurants, convenience stores, fraternal lodges, gas stations and truck stops. Penn National and Boyd own slot machine route operations in Illinois that service the locations.
Indoor dining and bar service already are banned in Illinois. The new orders also require hotels to limit room occupancy to registered guests and shut down event and meeting spaces. Hotel fitness centers will be required to operate with reservations only and at 25 percent capacity.
Performing arts centers, museums, bowling alleys and movie theaters that have been open with occupancy limits and mask requirements also must close. Outdoor group activities may continue for 10 or fewer people with reservations and mask requirements; indoor sports will be put on hold. Funerals will be limited to 10 family members. The new rules also require all office workers to work at home if possible.
Announcing the closures, Pritzker said, “We will continue to see a rise in both hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 for weeks ahead because of the infections that have already happened. But we can change our longer-term outcome. We can save potentially thousands of lives in the next few months if we make changes right now to stop this in its tracks. This is not a stay-at-home order, but the best way for us to avoid a stay-at-home order is to stay home.”
Sports betting launched in March but operated only for one week before the pandemic forced non-essential businesses to close. Pritzker’s June order allowed locally licensed operators to offer mobile betting. Then the reopening of sportsbooks also helped the young industry take hold as Illinois bettors could place wagers on sporting events at seven casinos, one horse racetrack and several wagering apps.
According to Illinois Gaming Board numbers, the state’s retail and digital sportsbooks took in $305.2 million in bets in September, more than doubling their August handle of $140.1 million, making the state the fourth to surpass $300 million in sports bets in a single month and the first to reach that milestone so soon after launching. The majority of bets, around 97 percent or $283.1 million, were placed via the state’s five online sportsbooks.
PlayIllinois.com Lead Analyst Dustin Gouker said, “Illinois’ launch in July came just as U.S. major sports returned to action, and that may have helped hypercharge the market. Pent-up demand is expected to fuel a new market, but Illinois has been able to capitalize on the additional demand that has been unleashed after sports were shut down this spring. It’s been a perfect storm for sportsbook operators.”
BetRivers sportsbook at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines led the market once again in September with $112.7 million in overall handle, or 36 percent of all bets, which included $98.6 million in online wagers. DraftKings sportsbook at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis posted $98.3 million in bets, including $95.9 million online, and FanDuel sportsbook at Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria was third with $78.6 million in bets, including $78.4 million online. PointsBet sportsbook at Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and William Hill sportsbook in Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin opened after the month was nearly half over. FanDuel also recently announced it will partner with Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville, which will be rebranded to FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing; the company will transfer its sports betting license from Par-A-Dice Casino in Peoria to Fairmount.
PlayIllinois.com Analyst Jessica Welman said, “DraftKings and FanDuel will continue to put pressure on BetRivers, which has really taken advantage of its early start in the market. That should be an interesting race to watch over the next few months. The bottom line, though, is that the more top-flight operators that launch, the healthier and more mature the market will become.”
Just as it looked as though cresting Covid cases could close casinos in Teller County, Colorado— at virtually the last minute state health officials Monday November 16 carved out an exception to Safer at Level Home Level 3 (Orange) for casinos.
Until then, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) planned to close casinos in Teller County, one of two counties that offer casino gaming (Gilpin is the other.) Instead CDPHE advised the Teller casinos that they will be treated as indoor events, with occupancy levels capped at no more than 50 people per room or no more than 25 percent of the room’s maximum occupancy. There are other restrictions as well, with alcohol sales curtained earlier.
Teller County had 391 Covid cases and four deaths, as of November 15 while Colorado had 159,234 cases and 2,234 deaths for the same period.
When the Teller County Board of County Commissioners heard that the state was planning to close casino, they responded with this statement: “Moving to Orange will affect all of Teller County but especially the casino industry in Cripple Creek. Casinos have been singled out in the Public Health Order as the only industry required to close under the Orange designation with the exception of alcohol only bars.”
The board pointed out that only 5 percent of Teller’s total Covid cases could be traced to the casino area. It declared, “The casinos in Cripple Creek have done an exemplary job of compliance to COVID-19 state regulations. Their protocols, sanitation, temperature checks, and response to a small outbreak have all been handled effectively and expeditiously. Public safety is critical as is economic vitality and sustainability.”
The argument apparently worked. Health officials, the Colorado Gaming Association and staffers from Governor Jared Polis’s office worked to come up with a protocol that would allow the casinos to remain open.
In Gilpin County, which includes Black Hawk and Central City, table games, which had been operating for about two months, were closed on November 13. The County was moved from Protect Our Neighbors, the yellow, least restrictive status, to Level Orange. Table games never were reopened in Teller County, even after the June 15 reopening.
CDPHE notified Gilpin officials that it was taking a graduated approach with restrictions but “reserves the right to move the county to a more restrictive level at any point” if the surge worsens.
Peggy O’Keefe, executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association, commented, “While we are disappointed that table games will be closed, we will work with the Health Department and hopefully get to a point where tables can open.”
In a separate but related development, Monarch Casino & Resort Inc. announced that it had received a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy from the city of Black Hawk for floors 1-13 of its 23 story hotel tower. The first phase of the expansion was due to open to the public on Thursday, November 19.
Phase I includes 250 rooms, an expanded casino, three restaurants and a convention space. The rest of the expansion, floors 14-23 are slated to open before the end of the year. This will bring the total number of rooms to 516.
Reacting to a second Covid-19 surge New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has imposed near lockdown conditions on residents and businesses, including casinos.
The restrictions are the most far-reaching since the pandemic began in March. Most residents, especially “non-essential” workers are asked to stay home.
Most of New Mexico’s 26 tribal casinos, being operated by sovereign nations, are not required to follow state directors, but are staying open with health and safety protocols employed.
Some have closed for at least two weeks, including the Buffalo Thunder and Cities of Gold Casino, both operated by the Pueblo of Pojoaque. The Navajo Nation’s four casinos remain closed and probably will stay closed now that the nation has reissued its own stay-at-home order.
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said, “We cannot put a price tag on the health, safety, and lives of our Navajo people. Revenues do not outweigh the precious lives of our elders, children, and gaming employees.”
Another casino that has closed for at least two weeks is the Isleta Resort & Casino. Isleta Pueblo Governor Max Zuni commented, “Isleta is concerned about the recent spike in Covid-19 cases within our state,” adding “We want to encourage the public and our team members to stay home for a short time to help flatten the curve and to be a good community partner.”
Also closing was the Santa Ana Star Casino Hotel.
The Route 66 Casino Hotel has been closed since October 25 when 13 infections were discovered among employees.
After four consecutive days of record positive Covid-19 cases, Pennsylvania health officials are weighing tighter restrictions on casinos.
While the city of Philadelphia ordered Rivers Casino to close Friday and not reopen until at least January 1, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said that there are no plans to return to closures similar to last spring, when officials used a color-coded system to determine what business could reopen after a statewide lockdown—casinos only were permitted to open if their locations were declared in the “green” zone, meaning positive cases were low enough to allow safe operation with mask mandates, limited capacity and other restrictions in place.
“There is no plan at this time to return to the red, yellow, green mitigation steps and stay-at-home order that occurred in the spring,” the spokesman told Play Pennsylvania.
“We currently have protections in place, like wearing a mask and limits on large gatherings. Pennsylvanians can stop the spread. It is all of our responsibility to do the right thing.”
The city of Philadelphia ordered Rivers Casino Philadelphia to close as of last Friday, November 20, and not reopen until at least January 1, as the city tries to slow the surge in a second wave of Covid-19 cases.
The city issued new “Safer at Home” restrictions that place casinos under the category of “business and activities that are not allowed.”
“We may be tired of Covid, but Covid’s not tired or us,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley told the Play Pennsylvania news site.
“Strains on our hospitals are already showing,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told the site, noting that hospitalizations have jumped 600 percent in the last seven weeks. “We do not take any of this lightly. Believe me, more than anything in the world I wish none of this was necessary. But there is no doubt these changes are necessary. We need to act now to reduce the rate of increase and flatten the curve once again.”
Rivers, owned by Rush Street Gaming, is currently the only casino within Philadelphia city limits. Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia is slated to open early next year. Nearby casinos include Harrah’s Philadelphia in Chester, Valley Forge Casino in King of Prussia and Parx Casino in Bensalem.
The city also returned Covid-19 restrictions to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, which will not allow fans to attend games at the team’s Lincoln Financial Field during the period of the restriction.
Atlantic City casinos appear to be dodging a second round of closures primarily because of safeguards in place to deter the spread of Covid-19.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said there is no evidence that casinos, which have been operating at a limited capacity, have contributed to rising Covid-19 cases in the state during what is being called a national second wave of the virus.
“We believe, based on the evidence that we have, that they’ve been able to responsibly manage their casino floors,” Murphy said during a briefing with other state officials. “Whether it’s through (personal protective equipment), whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos … there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the floor or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor.”
Murphy made the statement answering a reporter’s question which noted that Philadelphia casinos are closing during the new outbreak.
Atlantic City casinos were closed from March 18 to July 2 during the first wave of Covid-19 cases, which hit especially hard in the Garden State.
During the briefing, it was also revealed that some Atlantic City businesses have violated Covid-19 restrictions, but they were not casino related. One example was a restaurant that exceeded capacity restrictions.
Although Indiana casinos have no plans to close due to surging Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, some venues are revising safety and health policies and procedures in accordance with Governor Eric Holcomb’s recent executive order. Holcomb’s order allows local governments to may impose more restrictive guidelines and casinos may implement stricter policies and procedures than the gaming commission requires.
One of the new rules requires casinos to designate a socially distanced eating area, located apart from the gaming floor and walking paths. Commissioners said this will make sure everyone in the gaming area is wearing a face mask, except for people eating and drinking in adjacent restaurants.
The new guidelines also require casino managers to work with their local health department to ensure they are following best practices for preventing the spread of Covid-19.
In addition, if a county attains the highest red designation, the occupancy limit at any casino in that county will be reduced from the current 50 percent to 15 percent within 24 hours. Currently, Lake and LaPorte counties–home to Northwest Indiana’s five Lake Michigan casinos–both are designated as orange, just one step below red.
Casino patrons or employees with concerns about Covid-19 safety rules at casinos may file a complaint with the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration through the Indiana Department of Labor website, in.gov/dol.
Starting November 13, New York State’s four casinos and eight racinos are required to close at 10:00 p.m. under new rules in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases. The New York State Gaming Commission issued the mandate based on an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York Gaming Association President and Executive Director Michael Kane said the closures will extend into the “foreseeable future.”
Cuomo also said bars and restaurants must close “in-person” service from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. daily, starting November 13. Kane clarified those closures also applied to casinos and racetracks. Cuomo indicated the state could implement tighter restrictions if necessary, including prohibiting all indoor dining.
Cuomo ordered casinos and other non-essential businesses to close in March due to Covid-19. Later he allowed some businesses to reopen but casinos remained shuttered until September 9, and only were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity. The governor stipulated other safety measures, including mandatory masks for staff and patrons and plexiglass dividers at table games.
Toronto casinos that expected to re-open this month will stay closed under Ontario’s Covid-19 restrictions.
The Province’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said meeting and event spaces, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments would all have to close along with indoor dining.
The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation announced it will delay reopening its casino Woodbine under the new edict.
“Casino Woodbine will no longer reopen on November 14, 2020 as a result of the City of Toronto’s announcement on November 10 that certain businesses, including casinos, will be required to remain closed as part of the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the City.” The company said in a press release. “It was previously announced by the company on November 4, 2020 that Casino Woodbine would be reopening on November 14, after it suspended operations for the second time on October 9, 2020.
“The casino operations at the company’s other ten properties in Ontario are not impacted by the City’s announcement and remain open,” the release said. “Great Canadian is committed to providing a safe environment for both its guests and team members and introduced significant health and safety protocols as part of the reopening of the Company’s properties in Ontario and New Brunswick on September 28, 2020, followed by its properties in Nova Scotia on October 5, 2020. Great Canadian will continue to support the efforts of provincial and regional governments, public health authorities and Crown partners in preventing the spread of COVID-19.”
Other venues to shut include Dolphin Gaming, a bingo hall located in the province of Ontario, east of Toronto, Delta Bingo and Gaming St. Clair and Delta Bingo Downsview, according to local reports.
The Cyprus-based subsidiary of Melco Resorts & Entertainment has announced that Cyprus Casinos Limassol and Cyprus Casinos Pafos will be closed until November 30 due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.
The Nicosia and Ayia Napa resorts will remain open, however, but with reduced operating hours and with strict safety measures in place.
“Valued Customers, with utmost priority the safeguard of your health and a sense of responsibility, Cyprus Casinos Limassol will be closing at 5pm on 12th November while Cyprus Casinos Pafos will be closing at 3pm, as they will be suspending their operations until 30th November, according to the emergency governmental measures,” the company said in a press statement. “We continue to maintain strict hygiene standards to ensure a safe and enjoyable gaming environment for everyone.”
The announcement comes after the Cyprus government placed the southwest area of the island under a strict 19-day lockdown earlier this week, in a bid to reduce infection rate across the country.
Scotland’s betting shops have been ordered closed under rising Covid-19 restrictions until December 11.
About 500 betting shops will close in Scotland, bringing the country in line with Covid 19 restrictions now affecting most of the UK.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the country has moved to “level 4” restrictions in the face of a second wave of thee corona virus. Under the restrictions, all non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and all other hospitality across 11 authorities will be forced to close until December 11.
“Stubbornly high prevalence means that we might have less flexibility to offer some limited and careful easing of restrictions over the Christmas period which we are very keen to do,” she said in a press statement. “Moving to Level 4 restrictions for a limited period in some areas, while not a decision we would ever take lightly because of the wider economic and social impact, would help us to address both of these concerns.”
“The clear advice of our public health experts therefore is that we must drive infection rates down further in these areas, and they are not confident that Level Three restrictions will do this to the extent necessary,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council told SBC News that the council supports the closures.
“Nevertheless, it is extremely disappointing for staff and customers that betting shops in these council areas will now unfortunately have to close, not least because of the excellent anti-Covid measures which have enabled them to operate safely since they re-opened in the summer,” the spokesman said. “We hope that the shops will be able to re-open as soon as possible so they can go back to contributing to the economy.”
Meanwhile, the Netherlands’ state-owned casino operator has reopened 14 land-based venues after two weeks under lockdown due to rising Covid-19 cases in that country. Safety measures in place include social distancing and increased sanitation measures and will continue to apply.
Casinos in France, Germany and Italy remain closed as governments in those nations continue to use lockdown restrictions as a way of bringing cases of Covid-19 under control.