As casinos across the country start to reopen after months of being shuttered because of the novel coronavirus, Atlantic City’s gaming industry continues to wait for government approval to welcome back their guests.
Besides the lingering question of when the casinos will reopen, there is still some uncertainty about what Atlantic City casinos will look like when the time comes to open their doors, although the picture is starting to come into focus.
Resorts Casino Hotel released its “Work Safe, Play Safe” plan Friday and laid out some of the changes guests and visitors can expect upon their return. The installation of new technology — including ultraviolet lights to disinfect high-traffic areas and a bipolar ionization system that purifies air — along with adherence to established public health protocols are just some of the steps that will provide for the “safety and well-being” of everyone on the property, Resorts CEO and President Mark Giannantonio said.
“We are excited about being one of the safest destinations in our region upon reopening,” Giannantonio said in a statement. “We want our guests to be able to enjoy the friendly and warm experience that has always been part of our core values.”
Scenes from inside Connecticut and Las Vegas casinos, among others, also offer a glimpse of what Atlantic City’s gambling parlors could look like upon their eventual reopening. But specific industry-wide details are still being worked out among multiple parties, including state gaming regulators and the hospitality union.
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A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, AtlantiCare and Unite Here Local 54 have been working on a plan for “operational best practices by the nine casinos in Atlantic City.” Once finalized, the plan will be submitted to the Governor’s Office for review.
Reopening plans for the individual properties are due to state gaming regulators Monday.
Gov. Phil Murphy has said he would like to see Atlantic City’s nine casinos reopened by July 4, but, thus far, has not made any formal decisions. Murphy ordered the casinos closed March 16 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts, said the casino hotels would need about 14 days’ advance notice before they reopen.
Several parent companies of Atlantic City casinos, such as Caesars Entertainment Corp., have already opened properties in other jurisdictions, and protocols there give some indication of what to expect locally.
Bars, buffets, live entertainment and valet parking were not part of Caesars’ reopening plans in Las Vegas. Masks were worn by staff members, who were also tested for COVID-19 before returning to work. Guests were strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.
Recommended social distancing guidelines apply and increased cleaning measures are in place at nearly every open casino across the country. Guest temperature screenings, table capacity limits, Plexiglas separators and spaced-out slot machines are also commonplace.
New Jersey casino COVID-19 protocols are likely to be slightly different since the Northeast was one of the regions hit hardest by the coronavirus, according to multiple casino executives in the city.
“Every market is unique, and we can better tailor our solutions for our Atlantic City customers versus what might work in other jurisdictions,” said Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort.
If Atlantic City plays its cards right, the industry could benefit from seeing how other jurisdictions operate during the pandemic and incorporate protocols that work best.
David G. Schwartz, associate vice provost at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and former director of the school’s Center for Gaming Research, said Atlantic City properties could also use the reopening as an opportunity to “reintroduce themselves to customers.”
“In Las Vegas, that has meant casinos abandoning paid parking and some removing their resort fees,” he said. “Atlantic City casinos can use this opportunity to do the same, and to capitalize on ongoing travel restrictions. There are many people within driving distance of Atlantic City that might not want to fly right now, and if they like what they see when they visit an Atlantic City casino, they might keep coming back.”
State and regulatory guidelines will set the overall protocols for the industry, but individual properties and operators will work within those parameters to put their own safety and health measures in place.
Casino operators in Atlantic City believe that, after months of planning, they are prepared to safely and responsibly welcome guests back to their properties.
“Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City is extremely comfortable and confident that we will provide responsible protocols to safeguard both our guests and team members,” said Joe Lupo, property president. “The new standards will provide a clean, comfortable and fun experience that we are hopeful will present visitors an exciting summer here on the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore.”
Glebocki said “communication and reassurance are key to reopening,” since both guests and employees need to feel safe before they return. She said that once the industry-wide plan is approved, Ocean will share its own health and sanitation protocols, most of which will closely adhere to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines.
“Everyone has been living in this COVID world for nearly three months now,” she said. “We have become accustomed and we have adapted to a new sense of normal where masks and social distancing are commonplace in public spaces. That will make it easier for guests when they return to Ocean.”