“People could just come in droves. We don’t know. It’s a holiday weekend,” said Jason McKnight’s a union shop steward at Harrah’s. He’s anxious, as Atlantic City’s casinos tweeted the news, the nine gaming halls will reopen July 2nd, but at only 25 percent capacity, following three months of lockdown that put tens of thousands out of work. For McKnight it’s still not a sure bet, “hopefully, I’ll get a call, and I’ll get to go back. But I may not make this round. I mean, 25 percent occupancy is a very low occupancy. So we don’t really know.”
“Unfortunately, I think you’re going to see much larger unemployment numbers than expected. Just saying we’re open doesn’t mean we’ll be bringing back all our employees. Not at 25 percent occupancy.” Hard Rock’s Joe Lupo sees this soft open as a chance to show Gov. Murphy the casinos can handle guests with proper health and safety protocols. He’s reduced hotel bookings at Hard Rock, and plans no big shows. Borgata will reopen July 2nd by invitation-only and won’t welcome the general public until July 6th. Resorts promoted a new air purifier. The reboot requires mandatory masks and health screenings for guests and staff, industry-wide.
Yesterday, Murphy warned “if any visitor refuses to comply with these simple safeguards, you will be escorted out of the casino. We’re not going to tolerate any knuckleheads trying to ruin it for those who wish to enjoy themselves responsibly.”
“In the business of casinos, we deal with knuckleheads all the time. We’re pretty adept at that. So with the better air filtration, to be able to have contact tracing, masks, plexiglass, occupancy limits, I really think we’ll be able to provide a safe atmosphere for our guests, ” continued Lupo.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small added, “in a perfect world I hope to see droves and droves and droves of people flocking to Atlantic City, with masks and social distancing, of course.”
The scaled-back July reopening comes just in time, Atlantic City casinos historically count on big, third-quarter earnings, and the city depends on casinos for jobs and tax revenues but gaming profits incurred record losses in April and May. A bill that just passed New Jersey’s Senate would give the industry millions in tax breaks.
“I think they need something, if it’s not a tax break, they need something to have a bandaid for the next few months to push them, so that if we do open up at 100 percent they will be ready to open up. I believe a lot of these places have spent a l0t of their own money with plexiglass, and installing a lot of things for temperature taking, sanitation,” said David Fiorenza, an assistant professor of economics at Villanova University.
But the bailout bill could reduce the share of casino profits that support programs for the elderly and disabled and it imperils funding for city projects like a supermarket.
“The casinos fund so many programs, for seniors and disabled and if we don’t do something to help them get moving again those funds everyone’s worried about going away are going to go away.” Sponsor Steve Sweeney says the bill does also provide $100M for small businesses. Meanwhile casino workers plan more protests tomorrow to demand the industry pick up healthcare costs that expire June 30th for 10,000 workers. Lupo says that’s contingent at least in part on getting Sweeney’s bill signed.