Across the United States, casinos and other types of gaming destinations and venues shut down in February and March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, in many locations across the country, casinos and other gaming venues began the process of reopening in generally limited ways. All of this gives rise to questions about the impact of COVID-19 on the casino gaming industry. A key consideration is what will be the new normal for the casino and gaming industry.

Venues and Establishments Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic

A considerable amount of media and public attention has been paid to the casinos in Las Vegas as well as Atlantic City. Realizing these are gaming meccas in the United States, there are other types of gaming destinations and venues that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The broad list of affected enterprises includes:

  • Major casinos
  • Tribal casinos
  • Riverboat casinos 
  • Bingo halls
  • Off-track betting venues
  • Horse tracks
  • Dog tracks

Process of Gradually Reopening of Casinos

Casinos and other gaming venues are in the process of reopening in many locations around the country, including Las Vegas. This certainly does not mean that doors are reopening to business as usual. Rather, generally speaking, reopening of casinos and other gaming venues – as well as associated businesses and establishments – is being done at a deliberate speed. Of course, different jurisdictions and their leadership have different concepts of what is meant by deliberate speed. 

Nonetheless, there are some common themes found associated with the process of gradually opening casinos. These include sharp restrictions on capacity of casinos and other gaming venues. A major element of reopening involves permissible capacity. Different jurisdictions have placed overall capacity limits of between 20 to 50 percent. Other limitations are discussed more fully in the new normal section of this article.

As an aside, as a part of the gradual reopening, there is one other key point to bear in mind. The very real possibility exists that a course reversal can occur once reopening begins. In other words, if the rate of infection spread upticks after reopening commences, retreating on the process is a real possibility. 

State Gaming Board Oversight

Casinos and other gaming venues find themselves dealing with multiple entities when it comes to compliance and directives associated with reopening and restarting operations in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to state and local health agencies that are involved in the reopening process, casinos and gaming venues are also required to follow mandates and directives coming from state gaming boards and gaming commissions. Generally, these directives include the requirement for casinos and other gaming venues to develop comprehensive COVID-19 action plans. 

These plans are broken down into broad categories that include:

  • COVID-19 infection control
  • COVID-19 contamination management and prevention
  • Protection of workers
  • Protection of patrons

In the grand scheme of things, these action plans – that must meet muster with gaming boards and gaming commissions.

Look at the New Normal

“New Normal” is a phrase that gets tossed around a great deal. With that said, there really is a new normal when it comes to casino and other gaming venue operations. The new normal for casinos can be broken down into two broad categories: new normal for workers and new normal for patrons.

At the heart of the new normal for casino workers is extensive and ongoing training in regard to all matters associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. There remain many matters associated with the novel coronavirus that are not settled and are in a state of flux. This includes evolving understandings associated with infection. As a result, not only must workers undergo in-depth initial COVID-19 training but must engage in ongoing education as well to ensure they are abreast of the latest developments associated with the virus and the pandemic.

Workers must undergo recurring testing for infection. The goal is to have rapid testing available to employees at casinos and other gaming sites as soon as possible.

At the start of a shift, workers will be subjected to screenings. Beyond regular testing, daily screening involves temperature checks and a review of whether or not a worker believes he or she has been in contact with an infected person.

Workers need to be provided with free personal protective equipment or PPE. Specifically, workers are to be provided with masks and gloves at no cost to them. 

Broad use of plexiglass barriers are to be used in gaming areas in casinos and at other locations in a facility where workers and patrons interact. 

Workers are required to engaging in diligent hygienic practices. This includes regular handwashing throughout the workday as well as the liberal use of hand sanitizers. 

When it comes to patrons, the common recommendation (and directive in some locations) is that casinos make masks available to patrons free of charge. Social distancing practices are mandated in casinos. This means everyone in a casino must maintain a six feet distance between unrelated individuals. 

The new normal for casinos calls for more than graphics and posters placed on floors and walls to better ensure physical distancing. In addition, the new normal calls for workers assigned to the task of being floor guides. Floor guides roam a casino ensuring that social distancing and other pandemic guidelines are being fully followed. 

In regard to physical spacing, a good number of “one-arm-bandits” and other gaming machines will be shutdown to ensure social distancing. Empty spaces to ensure at least a six feet zone between people are gaming tables will be the order of the day. 

Highly popular serve yourself buffets are a thing of the past. There is a lack of clarity at what will take the place of these food fests popular at casinos. 

Throughout the course of the day (and night, when it comes to major casino and some other venues), cleaning and disinfection needs to take place. In addition, the new normal mandates that deep COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection must take place on a regular and recurring basis.

There is no certainty at the moment as to how long the new normal prevails. There is some consensus that some aspects of the new normal will recede back to practices that existed before the pandemic if and when an effective vaccine widely is available. However, there are also some aspects of the new normal that are likely to remain permanent practices, vaccine or not. For example, serve yourself buffets are not likely to return to casinos.