Poker players who gamble in Pennsylvania casinos and are concerned about reading a rival’s expression through a face mask need not worry: Poker will be banished when casinos begin to reopen in the coming months as the state’s coronavirus lockdown lifts.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Wednesday issued minimum protocols for casino operators to follow as they reopen, which will dramatically change the gaming experience for some visitors. Patrons and employees will wear face masks, casinos will need to install lots of plexiglas and hand-sanitizer stations, and some slot machines will be disabled to enforce social distancing requirements.
“Poker rooms are not authorized to operate due to players handling cards and chips,” the board said in the 10-page document. Poker room operations will be reexamined based upon changing guidance from health officials.
Casinos will be permitted to reopen only when the state moves the counties where they are located into the “green" phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-phase reopening plan. The green phase removes all restrictions. Gaming establishments in Western Pennsylvania, where the outbreak is less severe, will likely reopen first. The four casinos in the Philadelphia area will likely be among the last to reopen because all of Southeastern Pennsylvania is still in the “red” phase
The state’s 12 operating casinos and three off-track betting parlors have been closed since mid-March, and the impact on casinos, and the state treasury, has been devastating. Overall gaming revenue was down 84% in April compared with April 2019, from $284 million to $46 million.
Almost all of April’s revenue was derived from online gaming, which has surged in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, but falls far short of the revenue generated by patrons at casinos.
State regulated gaming generates more than $1.5 billion in tax revenue during a typical year. In April, gaming produced a meager $18.3 million in revenue.
Casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi are reopening this week, offering a roadmap for how the industry might recover.
Atlantic City casinos and hotels will also look very different once they reopen. Gov. Phil Murphy has not yet announced a date for when gaming will resume in New Jersey.
The Pennsylvania gaming board "desires to assure that reopenings occur in a manner which promotes the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight,” executive director Kevin O’Toole told the board Wednesday during a regulatory meeting conducted by teleconference.
O’Toole said these new operating requirements were based on best-practices guidelines as well as plans submitted by operators.
Under the rules, casinos, which had operated 24 hours a day, may now be closed during limited scheduled hours to conduct deep cleanings. Casinos may close areas of the gaming floor on a temporary basis to disinfect them. The gaming board needs to be notified of any temporary closures.
Patrons entering a casino will be required to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth, and to wear them continuously while in the casino. Patrons who wear a hat will be required to remove the hat or lower their mask when entering a casino to give security cameras a clear look at their facial features.
The casino “shall consider” implementing methods to identify people who have a fever and deny them entry to the gaming floor, the gaming board said. And patrons not complying with protocols “shall be warned,” and if they do not comply will be asked to leave the casino.
Casinos must promote social distancing between slot machines by installing plexiglass between machines, removing chairs from machines, or disabling machines, the gaming board said. Cleaning crews will disinfect slot machine touch surfaces “frequently.”
Table games “shall be operated in a manner to maintain increased distance between players at each table,” the gaming board said. Congregation around tables will not be permitted. Casinos in other states are restricting the numbers of players at some table games.
The new rules also provide for extensive guidance on cleaning protocols, including in non-public parts of the casinos.