Do Retail Casinos Reopening Lead to COVID-19 Spikes?

Most of the country’s commercial and tribal casinos have reopened across the US, after the COVID-19 forced nationwide shutdowns. The pandemic led to all of the more than 1,000 commercial and tribal casinos in the US to cease operations.

In some cases, like Michigan, commercial casinos were shuttered for nearly five months. In other states, like Nevada, casinos resumed business much earlier.

What impact do these casinos reopening have on COVID-19 figures in the US? Here’s a look at the data from five states:

Nevada

The Nevada Hospital Association reports that COVID-19 cases in the state are in a “downward trajectory”, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal article published Tuesday.

A report from Nevada Health Response, also posted Tuesday, shows 63,854 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,172 deaths.

Las Vegas is located in Clark County, which by far reports the highest number of confirmed cases (54,795), case rate per 100,000 (2,363.7), and deaths (1,006) related to COVID-19 across all Nevada counties. Clark County COVID-19 cases account for nearly 86% of total confirmed cases in the state.

Clark County is also the most populous county in Nevada, however, with just over 2.3 million people. That total accounts for around 75 percent of Nevada’s 3.1 million population.

Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and Gov. Steve Sisolak added a mandatory mask requirement for all patrons and employees on June 26.

Washoe County, home to Reno, comes is second to Las Vegas in confirmed cases (6,473), case rate per 100,000 (1,353.7), and deaths (128).

New Jersey

New Jersey lawmakers authorized Atlantic City casinos to reopen for business July 2. Conditions for resuming business limit casinos to 25 percent capacity, and require restaurants to keep all tables at least six feet apart.

The reopening of retail casinos doesn’t appear to coincide with Atlantic City becoming a COVID-19 hotspot. Atlantic County, host to Atlantic City, reports relatively low figures for confirmed cases (3,643) and deaths (239). Atlantic City also reports COVID-19 figures for confirmed cases (464) and deaths (2) for residents within city limits.

New Jersey’s biggest COVID-19 hotspots lie in the north of the state, near the New York metropolitan area. Bergen County, for example, reports 21,261 confirmed cases and 1,790 deaths.

Bergen County is New Jersey’s most populous county, with 936,000 people. Bergen County’s case rate per 100,000 (2,271.5) is higher than Atlantic County (1372.5). Atlantic County hosts a population of 265,000.

Colorado

It might be hard to quantify the effect of Colorado land casinos reopening on the state’s overall COVID-19 cases. The two counties that host the state’s legal casinos have tiny populations, relying on tourism to support the casino industry.

Three mountain towns in Colorado host all of the state’s 33 retail casinos, with two tribal casinos also operating in the southern part of the state.

Two of the mountain towns, Central City and Black Hawk, lie in Gilpin County. The county has a population of 5,441. Reported numbers for confirmed cases (17) and deaths (0) are very low.

The other mountain town, Cripple Creek, takes home in Teller County (population 25,350). Teller County’s COVID-19 figures for confirmed cases (149) and deaths (3) are also minuscule.

Colorado casinos reopened in mid-June. Confirmed cases in the state stood at 29,451 on June 15, and are at 54,230 as of August 19.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone State’s casinos reopened in phases, and as of July 3, all 12 commercial casinos in Pennsylvania had resumed operations.

Four of those 12 casino properties stand in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. As of August 20, Philadelphia numbers for confirmed cases (32,674) represent nearly 25 percent of the state’s total (132,000). Deaths (1,735) due to COVID-19 in Philadelphia make up almost 23 percent of Pennsylvania’s total (7,606).

Philadelphia’s population of 1.6 million makes up about 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s 13 million overall population.

Michigan

The casino industry in Michigan was one of the last in the US to get approval to reopen. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer permitted the state’s three Detroit-bases commercial casinos to reopen August 5.

The 23 tribal casinos in Michigan reopened at various dates before commercial casinos got the green light. Some tribal properties began reopening as early as May.

Those tribal casinos are located all over the state, while Michigan’s trio of commercial properties are all located in Detroit. Wayne County, which hosts Detroit, reports the highest number of confirmed cases (27,992) and deaths (2,717) of any county in Michigan.

The Detroit metropolitan area, with 5.35 million people, takes up more than half of Michigan’s total population. The three counties that make up the area include Wayne County, Oakland County (13,383 confirmed cases, 2,717 deaths), and Macomb County (11,257 confirmed cases, 920 deaths).

Among the three, the total combined confirmed cases (52,632) represent more the 55 percent of the overall state total of confirmed cases (94,697) and deaths (6,368).

It’s too soon to measure the impact of Detroit’s casinos reopening on COVID-19 data for Michigan. The commercial reopening protocols include a restricted capacity of 15 percent and a mandatory mask requirement for all customers and employees.

About the Author

Geoff Fisk

Geoff Fisk is a San Diego-based writer, specializing in the poker and gambling industries. He’s written for numerous platforms and has traveled the globe as a live poker tournament reporter. Geoff’s interests include the legal online poker industry in the U.S. and abroad.