Massachusetts’ three casinos have navigated the early days of their partial reopenings in what has been described as “fun done safely.”
The reopenings are a boon for casino operators, patrons, employees and local economies.
But they also come with sharp limitations, including caps of roughly 25% capacity, and a need to monitor the ever-changing pandemic.
New-look casinos welcome masked patrons
Casinos were given the green light earlier this month when Gov. Charlie Baker initiated the state’s transition to phase three of its return plan.
By then, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission had already implemented strict reopening guidelines for casinos.
Now, both Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield require guests to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines. Employees take patrons’ temperatures before entry; hand sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes are ubiquitous. Hotel and dining options are either non-existent or limited.
The casinos have closed poker, roulette and craps until further notice. The properties installed plexiglass dividers between the slot machines. They also clean the machines after each use.
Similar precautions are underway at Plainridge Park Casino, which reopened July 8.
The 25% capacity emphasized by the MGC is the most noticeable change.
Nonetheless, casino officials are thrilled to again open their doors.
“We have been pleased with the number of guests we’ve seen visit the property since our reopening. There has been a stream of patrons, both on the casino floor and in our restaurants,” Beth Gibbons, public relations manager at Encore, told PlayMA.
Unique touches include the launching of Encore’s new Lucky Dogs food truck, she noted.
“These are unprecedented times so we did not have visitation expectations upon reopening. We are just happy to be able to welcome back our employees and guests and are focused on providing a safe environment,” added Jocelyn Kelly, executive director for regional corporate communications at MGM Resorts International.
Reopenings provide boost to local economies, workers
Public officials have embraced the reopenings despite notable limitations and health risks.
“The City of Everett welcomes the return of Encore Boston Harbor as it means that hundreds of employees can get back to work in a healthy and safe environment,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria in a statement.
Encore has returned around 1,700 recently furloughed employees. That brings the casino’s workforce to roughly 2,700, according to Gibbons. The casino resort had more than 4,000 employees before the COVID-19 shutdown.
Around 700 workers have returned to MGM Springfield. Other employees will return “as additional amenities become available, which will be based on demand,” noted Kelly.
“You can see there has been a huge dip in hotel revenues, meal revenues … plus the jobs. We had about 2,500 jobs that went by the wayside,” Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno told CNBC.
Sarno said Springfield is working with MGM to delay tax payments. The casino paid more than $39 million in city taxes last year.
The potential tax delay is good news for MGM. The casino saw a 29% drop in revenue in 2020’s first quarter from the same period last year.
Casino officials expect the continuing jolt of COVID-19 to have “a significant impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition.”
The reopening will help to mitigate future losses, although it remains unknown whether casinos can turn a profit at just 25% capacity.
“We are confident that our casino, hotel, food and beverage offerings, and impeccable service will attract guests to return to our resort,” said Gibbons.
Kelly added, “It’s not about profits right now, it’s about people – bringing our employees back to work, and keeping them and our guests safe and healthy.”
COVID-19 still a concern in Massachusetts
Massachusetts has so far avoided the recent explosion of cases seen in southern and western US regions.
The state’s public health department reported 203 new cases on Tuesday. In comparison, Florida saw 10,181 new cases one day later, on Wednesday.
But that doesn’t mean health officials are relaxing in the Bay State.
“One thing that we could take away from the reopening, of particular states in the south and the west, is that they reopened too early,” commented state Rep. Jon Santiago, also a physician at Boston Medical Center.
“We all feel fairly likely that there will be a second surge in Massachusetts. I guess the question is, how big that surge will be.”
Public officials deemed Massachusetts casinos a higher-risk public activity. Any surge would undoubtedly have a severe impact on them.