New Jersey remains under stay-at-home restrictions until further notice. Of course, Atlantic City casinos are still closed and it appears like they will stay that way for a while.
While Gov. Phil Murphy has announced a plan for reopening, there is no set timeline. Just today, Murphy extended the state’s public health emergency for another 30 days.
Lockdown restrictions are starting to ease across the nation, but not so for New Jersey. With only four of the nation’s 989 casinos now open, the country still has a long way to go.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation has yet to see a decline in new coronavirus cases for more than three consecutive days.
New Jersey, on the other hand, has shown that social distancing works. At one point, it had 11 days of declining COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, the latest data shows an increase in recent days.
There is no doubt the coronavirus has taken its toll both physically and mentally. So, when casinos in Atlantic City do reopen, what will it take to make customers and employees feel safe?
Lifting restrictions is only one half of the battle. The other half is making sure employees and customers feel safe.
Will casino employees feel safe going to work?
Will customers feel safe going to their favorite casino, complete with crowds of strangers, smoky air and the touching of money and machines?
So many questions.
We will have to wait and see what guidance the Division of Gaming Enforcement provides and the measures the casinos implement. But we can take a look at the open casinos for some clues.
How will AC casinos keep customers safe?
New Jersey online casinos have been offering a safe alternative for gamblers throughout the pandemic. Even so, it can not compete with the adrenaline rush and excitement one feels when they enter a casino. Nor can it fill the shoes of its retail casino partners in terms of revenue.
However, that feeling of excitement is secondary to one of safety. It will not matter when casinos in Atlantic City reopen if customers do not feel safe gambling on-site.
While it is too early for casinos to start courting customers to return, it will happen.
The easy part of the courtship will include casino bonuses and promotions. The not so easy part will be ensuring everyone’s safety.
To keep casino customers safe, anticipate casinos to:
- Require everyone in the casino to wear masks.
- Redesign the casino floor to allow for more space between gamblers.
- Have hand sanitation dispensers readily available.
- Continually clean all machines and other surfaces.
- Encourage cashless transactions.
The casinos can do their part, but it is pointless if customers don’t step up to the plate and do theirs. Once the casinos do open, it is important to keep each other safe to avoid another casino closure.
How will AC casinos keep employees safe?
Obviously, measures that keep customers safe will also keep employees safe.
Without a vaccine for the virus, the best way to prevent infection is for everyone to champion their safety.
But no one can do it on their own.
It is not a stretch of the imagination to see how easily the coronavirus can spread throughout a casino infecting many people, who then will take it home to infect many more.
When the time comes, management will need to ensure the casino is a safe place to work.
That is why union leaders from across the country, including New Jersey, are calling for the protection of casino workers. In a video press conference, the unions ask casinos to test all workers before they return to work.
But testing is only one of many steps needed to keep employees safe.
While social distancing on the casino floor is a concern, so is social distancing during breaks in employee-designated spaces.
Some other potential changes:
- No-touch clock-in and -out procedures
- Staggered breaks
- On-site COVID-19 testing
- Health and safety training
Many of these provisions are included in the gaming guidelines provided by the Unite Here labor union, which represents casino workers in New Jersey.
Even if the casino does everything right, some employees still might not feel safe. What then?
There is good news for employees who do not feel safe returning to work.
In March, Murphy signed legislation preventing employers from penalizing employees for taking time off due to coronavirus- or other infectious disease-based fears. A doctor’s note may be required, but there is no expiration to the legislation.
When AC casinos reopen, what will they look like?
It is hard to say what a post-pandemic casino will look like exactly. But we can get some ideas from looking at casinos that are now open.
Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort Hotel in Idaho is now open with new safety measures in place.
They have implemented social distancing and an aggressive cleaning schedule. The casino is requiring masks inside the casino and is enforcing capacity limits.
Casinos in Macau are looking to technology to help bridge the gap. Cashless transactions and the use of personal devices to facilitate play are being discussed.
The loss of the overall customer experience must be a concern for both casinos and customers.
Bob Gdowski, a principal director with the casino design firm JCJ Architecture, is involved in several discussions regarding customer experience and safety with several casinos across the nation.
Gdowski told CDC Gaming Reports that both scientific and psychological measures are needed to help customers and employees feel safe.
“Creating an emotional connection (or) sense of place by embracing a guest with limited physical contact is a challenge.”
Some changes may require casinos to redesign their space.
“Many properties have enormous footprints, with a tremendous amount of generosity built into them,” Gdowski said.
“We are going to have to take back some of the generosity, and get smarter about how we use existing spaces, without compromising on the quality or quantity of experiences.”
Today, it looks like Memorial Day will come and go without the sounds of slot machines on the Boardwalk.
As for AC casinos, the business at hand is ensuring everyone is safe when the time comes to reopen their doors.