Atlantic City casinos got some welcome news Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that certain business restrictions are being lifted.
Starting Friday, the 10 p.m. cap on indoor food and beverage service will be gone. Casinos, restaurants and bars will also be allowed to operate at 35% capacity, a 10% increase from the current limits.
Sitting at an indoor bar is still prohibited, the governor said.
Pat yourself on the back, NJ
The statewide restrictions are intended to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. And as a result of residents following the guidelines, the Garden State is taking a small step forward.
We are able to take steps forward today because of the millions of you who have taken responsibility for ending this pandemic to heart – through constant social distancing, wearing your face masks, and exercising common sense.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) February 3, 2021
Just in time for Atlantic City casinos
The timing of Murphy’s executive order is significant for the casinos and Atlantic City’s hospitality industry. Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day are both important revenue generators, particularly in the slower winter months.
“Without question, I think it’s timely,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. “I think it’s definitely positive news and, hopefully, we see more positive stuff like this in the future.”
The Casino Association of New Jersey, the industry’s lobbying arm, wrote Murphy recently asking him to lift the 10 p.m. cutoff for food and beverage service before Super Bowl Sunday. Elected officials from Atlantic County and Atlantic City also made a similar request of the governor.
2020 had AC casinos ‘hanging on for dear life’
Steve Callender, president of the CANJ and regional president for Caesars Entertainment, said Murphy’s announcement Wednesday was “great news,” for a gaming industry that has been “hanging on for dear life.”
“It’s been really, really difficult,” Callender told PlayNJ Wednesday afternoon. “(The 10 p.m. cutoff) is a severe restriction. And we understand it, we get it. But, thank goodness that we’ve gotten to a point where it’s (coming to an end).”
Lupo said restaurant and bar business inside the casinos effectively stopped taking customers at 8:30 p.m. because of the 10 p.m. cutoff. On top of that, the cap also meant casino floor beverage service stopped completely.
Lupo added that being able to serve guests on the floor beyond the current cutoff will “enable us to provide a better experience and accommodate more people.”
“I believe the 10 p.m. restriction affected casinos more so than restaurants,” Lupo told PlayNJ. “But, (lifting the restriction) will be extremely helpful to our restaurant, bar (and) lounge business.”
Callender, Lupo and Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, all touted the industry’s COVID-19 protocols. Given the strict regulatory oversight of Atlantic City casinos, the executives believe their properties can safely accommodate guests and bring people back to work.
“We are thrilled with Governor Murphy’s decision to lift some of the restrictions impacting indoor dining,” Giannantonio said. “We appreciate his decision and confidence in our industry, and will continue to operate in a safe and responsible manner.”
Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said that lifting the 10 p.m. curfew and expanding indoor capacity “is progress as we move to reopening our economy.”
“Atlantic City is unique with a 24-hour liquor license and world-class entertainment,” Chait said. “Dining after 10 p.m. is very common and it is necessary to attract patrons to the safe environment.”