California Casinos Are Reinventing Themselves Outdoors in the Age of Corona

Image by Paul Hanaoka
Article by : Helen Sep 28, 2020

COVID-19 stirred the pot for the whole economies around the world, both on the global and local scale. It seems no business was left unaffected by restrictions put in place. Now, as economies begin to reopen throughout the United States, each state tries different approaches to adapting its businesses to the new realities of the pandemic – including casino venues.

While Nevada and New York emphasized limiting the capacity for traditionally indoor casinos, California has decided to try a somewhat different approach: allowing (and encouraging) the cardrooms to welcome their guests outdoors.

From the scientific perspective, the risk of rapid coronavirus transmission, in this case, is a lot lower compared to indoor spaces with air conditioning. Of course, other measures like regular sanitizing, physical distancing, etc. have to be taken regardless.

California has issued detailed guidelines for the state’s cardrooms that wish to go back to business. They include:

  • discarding, disinfecting, or setting aside for 7 days the deck that was touched by players;
  • washing and disinfecting chips before putting them into circulation;
  • replacing chips after every dealer rotation;
  • installing barriers wherever maintaining a 6-feet distance is not possible.

What’s interesting, while New York prohibited both food and drink service on the gaming floor, Californian officials allowed players to have drinks while at the table (the food service is still prohibited, however).

California’s COVID-19 response is tier-based: the state’s counties are divided into four categories (purple, red, orange, and yellow) based on the daily new cases and testing positivity rates stats. The purple counties have the strictest restrictions in place; however, cardrooms can reopen exclusively outdoors, even in purple and red counties. In orange counties, they can also operate indoors at 25% capacity, and in yellow ones, they can open their doors at 50% capacity.

San Jose’s Bay 101 and Casino M8trix have already taken advantage of the new regulation and renewed their operations outdoors. Both casinos installed large tents next to their buildings and set up playing tables under them. So did Artichoke Joe’s in San Bruno, which had its tent installed in the parking lot.

However, the counties still have the final say in whether or not the cardrooms can reopen, even if only outdoors. For instance, on September 14, mayors of 5 Los Angeles-area cities urged the county authorities to allow cardrooms to make their comeback. In San Jose, the ripple effect from the cardrooms’ closure was felt by 700 employees who were laid off, as well as by the local budget that lost millions of dollars in tax revenues.

The main reason for such a plea is that it’s not just the casinos that lose money: local budgets do too. Some of them rely heavily on the influx of casino-generated taxes. In Hawaiian Gardens, for example, more than 70% of the city’s income comes from revenue taxes of The Gardens Casino.

Even though the majority of counties (38 out of 58) are labeled purple, the overall coronavirus transmission trend seems to be promising. The daily new cases figure is going down, now at 2,950, and so does the testing positivity rate – it’s down to 3.6%, twice as low as it was a week before. Furthermore, hospitalizations have also decreased by 22%.

But it’s not just COVID-19 the casinos have to worry about: the wildfires keep raging throughout the state’s territory. In his briefing on September 15, gov. Newsom stated there are 25 major fire complexes as of now. They have burned down 3.4 million acres and made 38,000+ people leave their homes in the affected areas.


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