Could a Nationwide Resurgence in COVID-19 Cases Force Casinos to Close Again?

The coronavirus pandemic is raging worse than ever, with record numbers of new infections being recorded daily across the U.S. and the total number of cases now exceeding 3 million.

That could soon cause a huge dilemma for casinos: defy public health warnings and stay open in order to recoup a sliver of the billions lost since March, or risk further financial peril by closing again.

The carnage was startling when the pandemic caused all 989 casinos in the U.S. to close this spring, with some remaining shuttered for more than 100 days.

How dire was the situation? Foxwoods, one of the largest casinos in the world located in Southeast Connecticut, was burning through $2 million a week to stay closed (it reopened on June 1).

What’s more, the unthinkable happened: Vegas casinos were forced to go dark for the first time since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

However, 834 properties have since reopened nationwide (84%), according to the American Gaming Association’s data

Considering the AGA estimated in March the economy would lose more than $21 billion during an eight-week closure of U.S. casinos – the shutdown lasted nearly 12 weeks – it’s good news for everyone that they are open again. 

Short-Lived Relief For Casinos?

The bad news for casinos is Nevada is one of many states setting daily coronavirus records, and as a result, Governor Steve Sisolak issued a mask mandate in late June. 

Another bad sign? A racetrack in Texas, another COVID-19 hotspot, suddenly closed on Sunday, July 5 due to an “abundance of caution.” 

You might ask: what does one have to do with the other? Easy. If an outdoor venue that recently required masks can’t survive in this climate, casinos might not have much of a chance. The coronavirus thrives in stuffy, indoor areas with minimal airflow.

The other issue is coronavirus cases spiked after Memorial Day, which should come as no surprise. People grew tired of being cooped up and ignored all social distancing guidelines while celebrating the holiday.

What’s worrisome now is nationwide cases and hospitalizations were alarmingly high prior to the Fourth of July, which doesn’t bode well given the past precedent of Memorial Day.

Tracking Vegas

Vegas is a bellwether for the $43.6 billion industry, so it’s no surprise all eyes will be watching to see how Sin City’s casinos handle the current COVID surge. 

What’s clear is Nevada – like much of the nation – isn’t taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Governor Steve Sisolak released a statement last Friday decrying the fact less than half of businesses were in compliance with the new mask mandate, calling it “disappointing and unacceptable.”

Sisolak said he will take “swift and decisive action” against violators. The lack of mask wearing is likely what helped get Nevada, and more specifically Vegas, in this situation in the first place.

The reaction on social media was pure shock when pictures circulated of giddy guests walking around carefree – and mask-free – when Vegas’ casinos reopened on June 4. What came next was predictable: coronavirus cases surged in the weeks after the reopenings, which occurred without a mask mandate in place.

Will Casinos Be Forced To Close Again?

For what it’s worth, CNBC reported that casino owners have said rumors of Vegas casinos closing again are “baseless,” and they will “not close voluntarily.”

Recent events, though, in Michigan and New Jersey – the nation’s second-largest gambling market – show a forced shutdown is not out of question.

Michigan, one of the hardest hit states in the beginning of the pandemic (as we detailed here), was supposed to be in Phase 5 of its reopening by the Fourth of July. Instead, on July 1, Mich. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned indoor bar service after an outbreak at an East Lansing bar reportedly led to 138 cases.

As a result of Michigan’s step backward, all three of Detroit’s casinos remain closed since (though tribal casinos have been open since early-mid June). 

New Jersey was also devastated early by the pandemic. Then it was able to stem the tide and its infection rate dipped below 1 percent for 10 straight weeks. 

Things aren’t so rosy now in the Garden State, however. A rising infection rate forced N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy to issue an executive order requiring masks to be worn outside in public on Wednesday. 

That bit of news should be unnerving for New Jersey casinos. All of the properties in Atlantic City are open, minus one glaring omission – the Borgata. New Jersey’s best-performing casino chose to remain closed after Murphy canceled indoor dining and issued smoking and drinking bans in casinos on June 29. 

All of this is to say: If you like to gamble and enjoy the casino experience, you might be wise to head to your local establishment before that option is no longer available. 

About the Author

Carl Carchia

Carl Carchia has spent more than 13 years in sports journalism working for NBC, ESPN and CBS among others. He loves the Cowboys, Mets and disappointment, naturally. He likes to golf and play video games. Carl was very excited the day PASPA was struck down and is annoyed Connecticut doesn't have regulation in place yet.