Murphy says He’s Not Ready to Reopen Atlantic City’s Casinos

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Atlantic City’s casinos have suffered unprecedented drops in revenue. Atlantic City’s nine casinos, which, after years of losing, finally saw an uptick in revenue in recent years. Moreover, the casinos were forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers, causing an unprecedented amount of unemployment and poverty in the state. Since the governor ordered the closing of the gambling floors more than two months ago, there has been little relief.

Governor Murphy Fails to Act on Atlantic City’s Casinos

Although he’s taking very slow steps to reopen some businesses that were deemed “nonessential”, Governor Phil Murphy said recently he still hasn’t set a date for when the nine Atlantic City casinos will be able to reopen.

“It’s a huge game-changer in our economy as well as in the lives of literally tens of thousands of people in the city,” Governor Murphy said during a radio interview. “I would love nothing more than to say we’re ready to reopen. But we’re just not there yet.”

When asked whether it will be weeks or months when the casinos will begin operating again, Murphy responded with a cryptic, “I don’t want to marry myself. I hope it’s that.”

Atlantic City’s Casinos Move Ahead Despite the Governor’s Inaction

Some of Atlantic City’s casinos are continuing to accept hotel reservations, especially as the city’s beaches reopen for the summer. However, their money-making gambling floors will remain closed.

The Casino Association of New Jersey has worked closely with the AtliCare health system to develop a safe reopening plan, which includes cleaning and social-distancing guidelines. Although it was sent to the governor, he said he hasn’t seen the proposal yet. He did, however, stress that state officials are considering how to move safely forward with reopening Atlantic City’s casinos.

Governor Murphy Ponders Reopening Atlantic City’s Casinos

The governor observed the fact that casinos are housed in buildings that are larger than most buildings, which would make social distancing easier. But, he also observed that there are also quite a few challenges that could allow the coronavirus to spread, such as a lack of open windows and ventilation, gamblers sitting close to others on the gambling floor, as well as the visitors being sedentary.

During his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton Murphy commented that, “Casinos are a tough nut, it’s incredibly important, but it’s one we have to get right.”

The governor also remarked that state officials are learning how to manage capacity the state reopens beaches and parks. In addition, the state continues to expand testing and contact-tracing to help arrest the spread of the virus.

“Even though casinos are indoors, some of that’s going to be applicable as we think this through,” Murphy mused.

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A Devastating Blow to Atlantic City’s Casinos

After many years of dramatic revenue loss and closings, Atlantic City’s casinos had seen their fortunes improved over the last few years. That was due to a state takeover and moreover, the legalization of sports betting.

But due to the enforced shutdown, the casinos saw their revenue fall by 69% in April, their worst month ever. While online gaming and sports betting did bring some money into their coffers, it did little to offset the losses. The shutdown of sporting events didn’t help the state’s sports betting industry either; sports bettors were reduced to betting on Russian ping-pong matches and Belarusian soccer games.

Fortunately, the federal coronavirus stimulus bill does allow casino operators to apply for $425 billion in corporate loans. The casinos may also qualify for employee retention tax credits to keep their employees on the payroll.

New Jersey Continues to Struggle with COVID-19

New Jersey is densely populated, with 9 million residents. State officials have reported 10,843 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with 151,472 cases since March 4. Among the 50 states, only New York has more deaths and cases than New Jersey.

But as the state’s coronavirus outbreak continues to diminish, Governor Murphy has been slow to roll back the stay-at-home order and the closing of “nonessential” businesses he ordered more than two months ago. However, he has permitted parks to reopen, allowed “nonessential” retail shops to offer curbside service, and will allow beaches to open for the summer.

The Economic Impact of the Shutdown is Massive

While the economy suffers incredible losses, some businesses, lawmakers, and residents have been pushing the governor to speed up the process, and permit more businesses to allow customers inside while taking safety precautions.

In fact, the state Republican Party recently announced it is filing suit against Murphy to reopen small businesses. They argue that the governor arbitrarily picked and chose which businesses were considered essential.

Governor Murphy was asked recently if he could present to the public which prediction models the state is using to decide when the remaining executive orders should be lifted. Critics argue Murphy hasn’t backed his decisions with a substantial amount of detailed data.

”The data that we rely on for the decisions we’re making is the ones that you see every day,” Murphy said, without giving any more detail. “We don’t have something behind the curtain.”

Since mid-March, more than 1 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment. Moreover, many have been waiting for weeks to get their first check and continue to struggle with the state’s overloaded phone system and website.

On May 18, Murphy finally presented a multi-stage reopening plan, saying New Jersey is currently in Stage 1. However, he didn’t give a timeline moving through the stages. Murphy indicated that once the state moves past Stage 3, it will enter a “new normal.” That may only occur after there’s an available vaccine or effective treatment for the novel coronavirus. Until then, residents will be asked to wear a face mask and practice social distancing in public.

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