Pennsylvania’s closed casinos will be able to reopen Monday morning along with other business operations impacted by a state government order tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Tom Wolf held a mid-day news conference Wednesday to announce he would lift the mitigation restrictions he imposed this month that ordered shutdowns of the 13 casinos, indoor dining, gyms, theaters, high school sports, and other public activities from Dec. 12-Jan 4.
The governor said a sufficient plateau in Pennsylvania’s COVID-related hospitalizations has occurred to enable the restrictions to be lifted as scheduled, although he noted they could be reimposed if needed.
“Our mitigation efforts over the past several weeks are working, and I thank everyone who abided by the restrictions put in place to protect us,” Wolf said.
He stressed that prior state mandates relating to mask wearing, social distancing and other precautions remain in effect. In the case of casinos, that means they will operate as they did before Dec. 12 with a 50% percent maximum capacity limit, no indoor smoking allowed, and no alcohol served at bars or on the casino floor. Live entertainment, buffets, and other amenities will also continue to be curtailed.
Shutdowns costing about $6 million in daily revenue
When the first period of mandatory spring shutdowns ended, many casinos did not reopen when permitted on the first possible day in June. That was after a longer period of closure, however, and now that they have been through the experience once with recalling employees and restarting machines, they are prepared to move more quickly this time.
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach said that all of the casinos submitted updated reopening plans in preparation for lifting of the governor’s order, and 10 informed the board they would restart Monday.
Those that will not reopen immediately, he said, are: Presque Isle Downs & Casino, to reopen Tuesday; Lady Luck Nemacolin, which will wait until Friday, Jan. 8; and Rivers Philadelphia, which will remain under a separate city of Philadelphia closure order currently scheduled to expire Jan. 15.
COVID’s impact has been costly to the state’s casinos, which were shut down for about three months in the spring and have yet to regain their normal customer volume or workforce numbers. Generally, their slots and table games revenue was approximately 80% of pre-COVID numbers in late summer and early fall, although the drop was even steeper in November.
Based on the $181.8 million the casinos earned in slots and table revenue in November, the industry is losing about $6 million a day during the current shutdown, or some $139 million over the 23-day period that will expire at 8 a.m. Monday. A little over 40% of that amount is the combined state-local government share of casino tax revenue that is also lost.
Overall, the state’s gaming industry will earn at least $700 million less in revenue in 2020 than it did in 2019, due to COVID’s impact, although healthy revenue from iCasinos and online/mobile sportsbooks have helped compensate for brick-and-mortar losses.