Atlantic City casinos unlikely to reopen by Memorial Day

When will the land-based casinos in Atlantic City open? The unofficial beginning of the summer season in New Jersey’s gambling capital is Memorial Day weekend, which runs from May 23-25 this year, but it does not look like the city’s casinos will be open by then.

The Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, has not set a date when lockdown restrictions will be lifted. Due to the global coronavirus crisis, Atlantic City casinos have been closed since March 16.

If the available reservation dates for hotel rooms in Atlantic City are any indicator, New Jersey casinos may have 11 weeks without any revenue coming in. At the Borgata Hotel and Casino, for instance, June 1 is the earliest that people can book rooms.

In the last two weeks in March, the nine land-based casinos in Atlantic City reported a 60% decrease in gaming revenue. Figures for the next two months will be worse still, as NJ casinos were closed for the entirety of April and could stay shut until June. In 2019, the casinos in Atlantic City averaged over $215 million in gaming revenue for April and May.

The New Jersey state government has laid out a six-step plan to manage the COVID-19 outbreak and relaunch the local economy:

• Sustained reductions in new #COVID19 cases & hospitalizations
• Expand testing capacity
• Implement robust contact tracing
• Secure safe places for isolation
• Responsible economic restart
• Ensure NJ’s resiliency

The Memorial Day weekend is big for Atlantic City casinos, as the three-day holiday is a prime time for tourism on the New Jersey shore. Like Borgata, the Golden Nugget and Tropicana casinos are not taking room reservations until June. Hard Rock Atlantic City and Caesars Entertainment properties are taking reservations starting May 15.

In a recent press briefing, Gov. Murphy refused to commit to any timeline for the reopening of Atlantic City’s gaming and tourism industry.

“I know what it normally is, and I love it and I hope it can be some form of that. Memorial Day is, what, five weeks, four weeks from today. I can’t give you a full answer,” he said.

“I hope, as I’ve said many times, that we have some semblance of norm on the shore this summer, but it will be some semblance. I just don’t envision being in tight spaces without real restrictions on capacity and social distancing. Frankly, even on the beach, I just don’t see it.”

When the Atlantic City casinos do open for business again, things will still be different than the norm. An article from the Associated Press pointed out some likely scenarios that would be in place, such as:

• Temperature scanning
• Casino dealers and players having to wear masks
• Plexiglass barriers between the players and the dealers
• Reduced active slot machines
• Extensive cleaning of the casino floor area

The Casino Association of New Jersey is working with AtlantiCare on a “safe reopening strategy” that will include several new regulations and safety measures for the state’s gaming industry.

“At the Casino Association of New Jersey, our greatest priority is the health and safety of our employees, guests and fellow residents. We want Atlantic City to be ready to open as soon as the government determines it is appropriate to do so,” said Steve Callender, the president of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

“That is why we are working with our regional health care provider to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures our properties are prepared and ready to reopen when the stay-at-home order is lifted.”

Atlantic City casinos must wait for clearance from the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) before they can reopen. Regardless of when that occurs, it is likely that business for the summer will see a sharp decline due to lingering social restrictions and a general slump in tourism and gaming.

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