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MGC And Casinos Working On A Safe, Feasible Plan To Reopen In MA

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is starting to solidify its reopening guidelines for the state’s casinos.

Concerns have emerged, however, about how restrictions could limit financial viability, complicating a process that needs approval before casinos can reopen following their mid-March closures.

Upon reopening, what will casinos look like?

Minimum requirements proposed by the MGC mean there will be no craps, no roulette, and no poker upon reopenings at Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park.

Instead, gamblers will be greeted by a sign outlining COVID-19 symptoms. Then casino employees will offer hand sanitizer and check their temperature.

After that, properties will dole out masks to customers. Patrons will be required to wear the mask covering both their nose and mouth. Masks can only be removed when outside or taking a bite or drink.

Staff will frequently sanitize slot machines, screens, chairs, chips and cards. Wipes will be placed “conspicuously” around casinos, according to the MGC.

Winners can even request their payouts in a TITO ticket (jackpots) or cash in an enclosed envelope.

Bars will remain closed. Food and drinks will be limited to designated areas and restricted service.

Occupancy restrictions, meanwhile, remain undecided. MGC documents show numbers ranging from 25 to 50% occupancy limits.

And while the MGC sets rules for casino reopenings, Gov. Charlie Baker will decide the timeline.

Discussions have swirled about late June reopenings, but Baker said Friday that his office wants “two weeks of indoor dining data,” starting Monday, before deciding when to implement Phase 3, according to Boston.com.

Phase 3 is when casino floors are slated to partially reopen. Casinos have said they will need 10 to 14 days to prepare following Baker’s order.

Safety standards likely to be finalized Tuesday

Elaine Driscoll, the MGC’s director of communications, told PlayMA that, while the commission has yet to vote on required minimum standards for reopening, it has held “robust” talks with “staff and licensees about next steps regarding a complex set of considerations.”

“Some aspects of the plan remain under discussion at this time,” noted Driscoll. She added that MGC members plan “to reconvene to finalize the plan for moving forward.”

The commission will hold an open meeting Tuesday. Members at Tuesday’s remote meeting will vote to adopt minimum standards for reopenings, according to the agenda.

Concerns about viability worry casinos

Some in the casino industry have questioned whether the restrictions proposed by the MGC will make reopening a financial impossibility.

Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield’s vice president and general counsel, told the commission during a remote meeting last week that distance restrictions related to slot machines could too significantly limit patron occupancy.

The MGC has discussed requiring 6 feet of open distance between slot machines. If that can’t be attained, casinos could install plexiglass between machines situated closer together, with a minimum of 4 feet apart.

“Because we don’t have [plexiglass], we hadn’t planned to have [plexiglass], the reduced number of slot machines that we’ll be able to offer when we’re able to reopen will be so much less than we anticipated,” noted Stratton.

“We’re going to have to re-evaluate. … I think our team has to regroup and see if there is an economically feasible way to reopen.”

In other states, MGM has turned off every other machine to meet guidelines, allowing scenarios where machines are closer than 6 feet without plexiglass.

The MGC is also requiring 6-foot-high plexiglass and three-player limits at table games, specifically blackjack.

Other casinos in attendance also pointed to financial considerations associated with limited gaming positions. The concern is whether current proposals could too drastically reduce profits.

Notably, the topic of slot-machine distance will again be tackled by the commission at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Ongoing discussions largely focus on the best approach to physical distancing requirements for slot machines,” said Driscoll in her email to PlayMA.

George Myers

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George Myers is a writer with extensive experience in both news and sports reporting. He has primarily covered baseball and football, along with the intersection of sports and lawmaking.

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