Mark Dorren hasn’t seen his friends from the PA casinos in more than three months.
But at 8:30 a.m. on July, 3, Dorren eagerly stood in line to celebrate the reopening of Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack in Chester. A devoted customer of Harrah’s since it opened in 2007, before the shutdowns, Dorren would visit Harrah’s at least twice a week. He not only came to gamble, but also “to see old friends.”
The PA casinos opened their doors at 9 a.m. to patrons belonging to their loyalty-card programs. But Dorren and his friends were let in at 8:30 to prevent long lines. Harrahs, and other PA casinos, will once again be open 24/7.
Owned by Caesars Entertainment, Harrah’s is just one of many PA casinos that are reopening for the July 4th weekend. The long-awaited reopenings come as Pennsylvania and New Jersey ease their stay-at-home orders. Atlantic City casinos reopened one day before Pennsylvania on July 2.
Valley Forge Casino Resort also opened on July, 3, while Parx Casino in Bensalem and Wind Creek Bethlehem reopened on July, 6. Rivers Casino Philadelphia hasn’t yet announced a reopening date.
State Tax Revenue Hit Hard with the Closure of PA Casinos
State and local tax revenues took experienced a sharp decline, due to the extended coronavirus shutdown. After launching sports betting in November 2018, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported a record-breaking $3.3 billion in revenue for the 2019 fiscal year. The latest fiscal year reports will come out later in July.
Even after reopening, Harrah’s and the other PA casinos are unlikely to recoup their losses quickly. With the post-COVID PA casinos only operating at 50% capacity, and every other slot machine closed off, revenue will not come in at the usual levels. Furthermore, to ensure patrons are seated six feet apart, table games have fewer chairs. Horse races held at Harrah’s will be open for betting, but very few spectators will be allowed to watch the races from a tiny outdoor deck.
To top it off, food and beverage sales will be down, with limited seating and service from the bars and restaurants at the PA casinos.
Continued Concern About Spreading the Virus
Despite PA casinos reopening per Governor Wolf’s green phase July 4th weekend, crowds at the casinos have caused concern for some. Some believe that casino patrons, who tend to be older, could be at risk of contracting coronavirus, despite the many, many safety precautions taken by all of the PA casinos.
While Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have seen coronavirus cases continually fall below the peak levels of April, the state still has seen a small increase in cases over the last few weeks. That is based on the data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
All of the PA casinos will abide by many new safety protocols. All employees and patrons must wear masks at all times, and anyone entering the casinos will be subjected to a temperature check.
“Slot machines are wiped down every two hours with cleaner,” said Aimee Cicero, a public relations manager for Harrah’s. “There are sanitizing wipes throughout the casino floor that patrons can use to wipe down the slot machines as well.” Chips for the table games are also regularly disinfected.
A New Normal for Patrons of PA Casinos
A few casino patrons were clumsy when following the new mask policies, especially in the smoking section. Some had had to sling their masks below their chins order to smoke while playing the slot machines.
Patrons not in the smoking section stuck to the new rules haphazardly, with many wearing their masks only over their mouths, so they could freely breathe. One table game had a crowd of 10 gamblers, despite the new regulations limiting that number to six.
Michael Castellenti was not surprised by the changes, since he’d seen what other casinos around the country were doing. He thought that visiting in the morning could be a smarter choice than visiting at night, when the PA casinos are more crowded.
Since Castellenti lives near the airport, Harrah’s is the closest casino, and he’s happy to see it open. “It doesn’t feel too different,” he said. “I like casinos because you’re around other people that are happy.”
Eileen Morten, found comfort in returning to Harrah’s, too, although her feelings were more bittersweet. She used to visit the PA casinos with her husband weekly before she retired at the end of last year. Just two weeks later, her husband died.
“I’ve missed it,” she said. “This is my first time being in a casino without him.”
Despite her doubts about going out in a post-pandemic world, Morten looked forward to the PA casinos reopening. “I’m happy, seriously, just to be around people.”