New York Casinos Are Back in the Game, But Not as We Remember Them

Image by Matteo Catanese
Article by : Helen Sep 11, 2020

New York casinos are cleared to open their doors again at limited capacity starting September 9, Gov. Cuomo stated last Thursday during a teleconference, thus finally putting an end to casino owners and staff being kept in the dark about their reopening.

The reopening requirements put in place include having enhanced air ventilation and filtration systems in place and limiting the number of customers to 25% of the usual casino capacity. Casino customers will be required to wear masks and maintain a 6-feet physical distance, even while playing slot machines. Alternatively, the physical distancing rule may be overlooked if protective barriers are placed between slot machines.

Reopening requirements also concern activities that will be permitted in the casinos. Table games will be making a comeback only if casinos will be able to ensure playing them poses no risk for the customers. Once a casino has a plan on how to mitigate the risk of coronavirus transmission, they will have to get the New York State Gaming Commission’s approval before putting them in place and allowing table games to be played. Besides, no food or beverage service will be available on the gaming floor as indoor dining remains forbidden in five boroughs throughout the state.

Governor Cuomo also warned casinos they may need to hire more staff to ensure the reopening guidelines are being adhered to.

Casino owners and staff are thrilled to be able to get back to work, with one worker saying in an interview for News 8 WROC, “Opening the casino at any capacity is more than we had a month ago, more than we had yesterday. So, we’re ready to go when we get called back, we’ll be on the job our job, serving our guests.”

Notably, this change will affect only non-tribal casinos as the tribal ones were not subject to the state’s closure order in mid-March. They have been open for several months, while voluntarily following the best practices against coronavirus transmission: frequent sanitizing, obligatory face masks (both for staff and customers), and maintaining a 6-feet physical distance.

Before the coronavirus pandemic forced the casinos to close, alongside with other non-essential businesses, New York’s casino industry turned in $2.73 billion in gross gaming revenue (2019) and is home to 4 commercially-run (i.e., non-tribal) casinos, including Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, as well as 11 so-called racinos and video gaming terminal establishments. Resuming these casinos’ operations was put off until the last phase of reopening the state’s economy.

New York state was one of the hardest-hit ones in the US at the beginning of the pandemic, with 228 thousand confirmed infections between March and September and more than 19 thousand deaths. With high rates of new daily cases and subsequent deaths, Gov. Cuomo ordered the state’s lockdown in mid-March.

However, since mid-June, the number of daily new cases has been staying under 500 per day, making the situation look less dire. Yet, Gov. Cuomo has repeated multiple times he is wary of reopening indoor establishments with heavy use of air conditioners that were frequented by large numbers of people pre-coronavirus due to the concerns of enhanced virus transmission in such environments. This is the reason casinos stayed closed since mid-March while the state’s economy started reopening earlier in May. New York is among the last states to allow casinos to reopen. New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have all allowed their casino establishments to reopen earlier this summer, in combination with their efforts to reopen the states’ economies.


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