The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has established a set of minimum reopening requirements for the state’s two resort-casinos and slots parlor.
Casino-goers continue to wait, however. Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino cannot open until Massachusetts enters Phase 3 of its statewide reopening plan.
MA casinos could open by mid-July
The 5-0 vote by commission members to approve reopening guidelines was the result of three hours-long meetings this month.
Those meetings included in-depth discussions about how to juggle patrons’ health and financial considerations within the three locations.
The gambling sites have been closed since March 14. Massachusetts state officials have said Phase 3 will not start before July 6; the exact date depends on health considerations.
Casinos say they will likely need an additional 10-14 days to prepare once Phase 3 begins.
“The MGC is working to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening, issuing guidelines today that will no doubt shift to reflect the changing public health data over time,” said MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein in a statement.
“We are confident that our three licensees will work in good faith to implement and enforce these measures.”
“We also know that the success of a reopening will require the casino patrons’ cooperative efforts, thoughtful awareness, and empathy for one another and the greater community.”
Required health and safety measures for casinos
Before reopening, the three sites are required to submit a plan which meets numerous requirements:
- Screen guests and require face masks
- Maintain at least six feet of distance between slots positions or install six-foot plexiglass dividers
- Install plexiglass at blackjack-style tables separating dealers and players, and between players
- No more than three blackjack players, with unused chairs removed
- No poker, craps, or roulette until further notice
Casinos are also required to limit occupancy, in part, by taking the number of available gaming positions and multiplying by three. Restaurants will follow exiting state regulations.
The requirement to have plexiglass between slot machines closer than six feet had previously generated concern from casino representatives.
Sites are not prepared to install plexiglass, they argued last week, contributing to the MGC’s decision to delay its final vote.
On Tuesday, casino reps again highlighted the tough nature of Massachusetts’ guidelines. That includes hurdles related to procuring six-foot-tall plexiglass and installing it before reopening.
MGM, in fact, is likely to reopen without plexiglass. That means only machines six feet apart will be in use, lowering the casino’s slots total and potential revenue.
“I don’t think we’re presently prepared to be opening in early July with plexi on slot machines, so we’d have a significant reduction in our offerings,” said Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield’s vice president and general counsel.
Casino questions strict drinking guidelines
Collaboration between the MGC and casino representatives has been largely smooth. But there have been disagreements.
For instance, casinos are required to make “reasonable efforts” ensuring patrons do not carry drinks through gaming areas.
Commissioners said the prohibition is an attempt to avoid people lowering their masks to drink when walking through a crowd. Instead, patrons will only be allowed beverage service while seated and gaming.
The measure received pushback from Stratton.
Stratton questioned the “public health concern” of allowing mask-wearing patrons to carry drinks from game to game without consuming them.
“That’s probably where our biggest challenge lies as folks want to responsibly move around. And, obviously, there is significant time between when you can get served a drink and find a cocktail server to serve another,” he noted.
“Patrons view those not as free drinks but something they’ve earned.”
Commissioners did not budge. They said allowing people to carry drinks creates an environment too similar to a bar. Bars cannot open in Massachusetts until Phase 4.
“I have a concern that allowing people to wander might run afoul of [state guidelines] as we know it right now,” said Commissioner Eileen O’Brien.
Casinos could also be subject to additional guidelines from Gov. Charlie Baker’s office.