Arriving at Borgata around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I have to navigate big crowds of excited guests returning to Atlantic City’s top-performing casino?
In truth, the words empty and quiet set the scene.
Sure, people were playing slot machines, but they were scattered. And most of the table games were empty, too.
Of course, with temperatures soaring into the 90s, it was a perfect beach day — or in the case of Borgata guests, the perfect day to enjoy a morning out by the pool and beer garden.
No matter which option guests decided to go with, the MGM-owned casino hotel was back in business mode. Sunday marked the reopening of Borgata to the general public. The Atlantic City casino hosted a three-day, invitation-only event last week.
During my visit, it was clear that Borgata, like other AC casinos, had cleaning and social distancing at the top of the list. Signs directed guests to wear masks, keep their distance and wash their hands.
Some spaces were closed off, and not every restaurant was open. This is the new normal of Atlantic City casino gambling.
Borgata welcomes guests back at last
Melonie Johnson, the new president and chief operating officer of Borgata, is certainly excited about being able to interact with customers and employees.
She arrived in town during a time when the entire resort was shut down thanks to the global pandemic.
When I chatted with Johnson, she remained upbeat about the whole situation.
“It feels great,” said Johnson. “It’s an understatement to say how happy we feel opening the doors to welcome our guests back at the Borgata.”
Borgata customers had to be a little more patient compared to those at the other eight properties across town.
Instead of reopening on July 2 or 3 as the other eight casinos did, Borgata elected to delay its restart by first a couple of days (July 6) and then several weeks. It announced the July 26 reopening date after its neighbors were up and running.
Borgata reopening and the new normal
And the fact is, this is far from a typical summer at the Jersey Shore.
I only had to walk down the Boardwalk or around Borgata to see the differences. Masks were a common sight, and most people were keeping that six feet of distance (but not always). But it was busy in the resort town, and the beaches were full.
With no indoor dining at Atlantic City casinos, Borgata did what other casinos did: offered options for takeout and outdoor eating. Food and beer trucks were outside near the valet drop-off area.
Borgata guests arriving via the self-park garage, valet area or outdoor surface lot are all required to go through a thermal temperature screening.
This includes guests re-entering the property. Security guards are in place to direct traffic. I experienced the temperature screening when I entered via the garage and when I re-entered via the outdoor patio area.
Johnson described the thermal screening as well as other protocols via Twitter:
Meet Melonie Johnson, #BorgataAC's new President & Chief Operating Officer. With Melonie, we are thrilled to reopen our doors tomorrow and welcome each of you back to your happy place.
Visit https://t.co/ytzbYcdWQH for the most up-to-date Borgata information and updates. pic.twitter.com/Ia9EgCjUQT
— BORGATA (@BorgataAC) July 25, 2020
And here are some other observations from my opening day visit:
- Ropes are set up to help guide customers coming in and out of the building.
- Hand-sanitizing stations are not hard to find.
- As expected, every other slot machine is turned off.
- While live entertainment offerings are currently banned, shows are tentatively rescheduled for 2021.
- Additional outdoor dining and pools are available at The Water Club.
On a side note for guests thinking of a stay at Borgata, hotel rooms in The Water Club are currently unavailable. The Borgata buffet is also closed.
And a heads-up for poker players: The poker room is roped off for now. Borgata has not given a date on when guests will be able to ante in again. (Click on an image below for a larger view.)
Warming up for Sunday’s reopening
By hosting a soft reopening last week, the Borgata team went through a trial run of sorts.
For Johnson, who previously served in the same role at MGM National Harbor, it was her first chance to see Borgata running, with employees and guests.
“Thursday, Friday and Saturday were intended to be a soft run to get our employees acclimated to our new normal,” said Johnson.
“We closed the doors in March and [when we] reopened the doors this week, [it was a] very different situation. We implemented a seven-point health and safety plan that was a set of protocols and policies conceived between scientists and medical experts.”
Here are some of the protocols that Johnson highlighted:
- HVAC controls to make sure that the air in the casino is acceptable.
- Two custom-built handwashing stations that are completely touchless, with water, soap and hand towels.
- Polycarbonate barriers at all table games to protect customers and employees.
Is the Borgata sportsbook open?
The short answer is yes. And it’s perfect timing, too.
NJ sports betting is back in a big way. Borgata reopening day coincided with the restart of the 2020 MLB season.
Plus, the NBA restart in the Walt Disney World bubble begins Thursday.
However, the BetMGM Sportsbook & Bar (previously known as Moneyline) is not offering food and drink. The sportsbook is open only for watching and wagering.
And like the mandates for the casino floor, the sportsbook is operating at 25% capacity.
Tables and chairs are available, with social distancing measures in place.
More importantly, when customers get up from a table, an employee comes over to thoroughly wipe it down within seconds.
As far as bets go, Tom Gable, director of race and sportsbook operations at Borgata, is seeing a positive response so far.
“For us, in the sportsbook world, it was perfect timing to be able to reopen … on opening day of Major League Baseball,” said Gable.
“We did probably in two days, the last few days, in handle what we would typically do in two weeks’ handle on baseball. So there’s definitely a pent-up demand to bet right now. People moved online to bet [on] Russian table tennis, and Korean baseball, and anything else that the bookmakers could put up during the pandemic period, when nothing was really going on.”
And Borgata customers have alternative ways to do their MLB betting. Wagers can be made via the Borgata Sports or BetMGM online sportsbook apps.
The bottom line is, whether it’s the casino, hotel, outdoor dining or sports betting, Borgata is ready to go. It’s the new normal, and it seems to be working out just fine.