New York’s largest privately owned gaming venues, Resorts World Catskills and Resorts World New York City, are back in business, heralding the end of the longest gaming industry lockdown in the United States.
September 9 was the first day non-tribal gaming operations were permitted to reopen in New York after a state-imposed shutdown dating back to March 16.
By noon on that day, the two properties were ready to go.
“We’re excited,” said Bob DeSalvio, president of parent company Genting Americas East, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s Genting Group resort conglomerate.
The reopenings occurred under a number of restrictions laid down by Governor Andrew Cuomo—notably, a 25 percent cap on gaming floor capacity, a requirement that slot machines be spaced no less than six feet apart, and a provisional ban on table gaming, although operators can apply to end the ban once they’ve installed physical barriers between players.
Entertainment venues are not yet permitted to reopen either, and most restaurants will remain closed. The same for spas, fitness centers and most other non-gaming attractions. Also, for now at least, the state is not permitting food and beverage service in gaming areas.
At Resorts World Catskills, located in Thompson, Sullivan County, about 90 miles north of New York City, it meant reopening without its 150 table games and just under 700 of its roughly 1,600 machine games. Its supporting hotel was set to reopen Saturday with 100 of 330 rooms available.
At Resorts World New York City, the largest racino in the country and the economic driver for the storied Aqueduct Raceway in the Jamaica section of Queens, around 1,000 of the property’s 4,400 VLTs were expected to be up and running Wednesday, but none of its 1,300 electronic table games.
“While the casino floor may look a little different, all of these changes are created with your health and safety in mind,” Resorts World NYC President Scott Molina stated on the property’s website. “Once we are back open, we will constantly be evaluating the situation in order to gauge when we can return our full suite of amenities to our valued guests.”
On the other side of the state, Hamburg Gaming at Buffalo Raceway also opened September 9 with a little more than 200 of its normal complement of 900 VLTs. About 45 miles to the east, midway between Buffalo and Rochester, Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel opened its doors with around 200 of its 800 VLTs, and the same limits in force elsewhere in the state.
Not that anyone’s complaining after a shutdown that dragged on for more than five months. New York State experienced the worse initial Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
Hamburg Gaming General Manager Rob Puhalski said the capacity restrictions will be challenging, but he’s confident his racino can get back to at least 50 percent of 2019’s gaming revenue.
“I think the normal marketing offers will probably be put on hold, and we’ll evolve as we open the doors and see what response we get,” he told GGB News. “Our marketing team is very busy making calls, getting the feel for guests’ concerns and their needs and their availability.”
“There’s always a fear of losing market share when your facility is closed, especially because there were gaming facilities open in neighboring states” during the pandemic, said Meghan Taylor, vice president of government affairs and community relations for the Resorts World properties. “But we’re committed to embarking on new marketing and growth strategies.” Those strategies will including partnering with local businesses to provide players with discounts and other perks, she told GGB.
In fact, Wednesday’s openings occurred under safety protocols put in place by operators that in many ways exceed state mandates.
At the Resorts World casinos, these include property-wide hand sanitizer stations; physical distancing barriers at select machine games; limited entry points and mandatory temperature checks for customers and employees; new technologies that include density counters and no-touch ID scanners for contact tracing; HVAC filters that exceed state requirements; deployment of a special “Clean Team” to disinfect high-touch areas; and a staff training program on safety and sanitation.
Hamburg Gaming’s measures are similarly comprehensive, and include temperature screenings on arrival; hand-sanitizing stations property-wide; a requirement that customers provide ID for contact tracing; specially equipped cleaners charged with disinfecting all surfaces on an ongoing basis; and a “zero-tolerance” mask policy implemented in accordance with the state’s mask requirement under which patrons must keep face coverings completely in place, even when seated, or they have to leave.
“We’ve reached out to our database to gauge their needs and wants about returning, and I think what we’ve provided will give everyone a real sense that this is a place where they’ll be comfortable,” Puhalski said. “I think we’re in good shape to get our loyal customers back.”
Hamburg has benefited in this respect as well, he said, by being part of Boston-based gaming and hospitality giant Delaware North.
“We didn’t want to be closed as long as we were, but we did have an advantage in opening up last. We were able to build on any hurdles or concerns (at other Delaware North venues), and it helped improve us that much better.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, a Queens native whose district includes the Resorts World-Aqueduct complex, hailed the reopenings as a “productive first step” for the industry, for its roughly 5,000 employees, most of whom have been furloughed since mid-March, and the dozens of host municipalities that benefit from a share of the taxes it pays
“I look forward to seeing how we progress from here,” he said.
The other major New York City-area casino, Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, is set to reopen September 21, owner MGM Resorts International said.
Beyond that, state’s other full-scale casinos𑁋Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, del Lago Resort and Casino in the Finger Lakes and Tioga Downs Casino Resort near Binghamton in the Southern Tier𑁋and the remaining five racinos are expected to open this week.