While activities across the United States are slowly resuming with the gradual lifting of containment measures, casinos in Massachusetts are still awaiting a fixed reopening date. The optimistic assumption places the recovery on June 29. It is indeed necessary that the gaming commission adopts a reopening protocol, and that the 3 casinos of the State can implement it before the opening. Discussions are taking place with the operators, but the process is complex. The Governor’s office as well as the health administrations are involved.
Massachusetts players will still have to wait
After 3 months of closure, American casinos are gradually reopening. However, players in the state of Massachusetts, unlike those in most US states, will still have to wait. It was in fact on March 15 that they had all been closed as part of the measures intended to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has not yet made a clear and final ruling on the measures to be implemented by casinos to ensure optimal health security for visitors. However, in the neighboring state of Connecticut, casinos Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun have resumed operations since the beginning of the month.
Health measures on the table for reopening discussions
In order to move forward on the development of the appropriate sanitary protocol and to discuss other issues related to the reopening, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission organized a meeting with the various operators. The state has 3 casinos: MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park. At the end of this meeting, which took place on June 11, the date of June 29 is announced as a potential reopening date, in the best case scenario. Casinos report that they would need at least 2 weeks to be able to fully implement whatever protocol the commission would suggest.
Discussions focused on the various health measures to be applied and the ability of casinos to deploy effectively. The members of the commission have come to an agreement on the installation of a Plexiglas barrier for the games of blackjack and the like. For poker, craps or roulette, discussions remain open as to the health measures to be applied. The discussions led by Karen Wells, interim executive director of the commission, made it possible to adopt by consensus the installation of cleaning gel at the entrance of all casinos. Regarding distancing, the committee still reserves its opinion, pending further clarification from the state.
Brian GullBrants, president of Encore Boston Harbor, says his facility has already started establishing health safety measures related to limiting the spread of COVID-19. The principle of Plexiglas barriers for table games is adopted just like at MGM Springfield, but with nuances in the implementation. The reduction in the number of slot machines is also part of the protocol for reopening casinos. With the uncertainty that still hangs over the final sanitary protocol, we could have one or two inactive machines between each active machine. In the most demanding scenario, the number of machines could drop from 2,804 to 935 at Encore Boston Harbor, and from 1,768 to 589 machines for MGM Springfield. For the Plainridge, we could go from 1320 to 440 machines.
Casinos will have to present their reopening plans well in advance of business resumption
To manage the deconfinement, the State of Massachusetts has broken down the process into several phases. Each of these should last about two weeks. Phase 2 started on June 8, and it was not until phase 3 that the casinos could actually resume operations.
To be authorized to reopen their establishments, casino operators will have to present reopening health protocols in accordance with the recommendations of the State. These protocols should outline the measures taken to comply with the regulatory recommendations of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Massachusetts Department of Health, the orders of the Governor (Charlie Baker), and the rules that the Commission will adopt at the end of its consultation process. It is therefore a complex process that involves several administrations. Each casino will have to present its reopening plan at least one week before the date scheduled for the start of its implementation. Otherwise, the reopening could be postponed.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is therefore well aware of the issues. It wishes to conduct the activity of its area of competence in strict compliance with the law, and after having fully understood the various barrier measures. For Enrique Zuniga, member of the commission, the objective is not to achieve zero risk; the aim is to reduce the risk as much as possible through a range of measures whose effectiveness must be evaluated.