ALBANY — New York’s casinos have their long-awaited clearance to reopen, albeit with greatly reduced crowd capacity and extensive safety precautions in place against the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the decision Thursday. Facilities with enhanced air filtration systems and other sanitary preparations in place can open starting Sept. 9.
They can operate only at 25 percent capacity, though. In some cases, that will squeeze their profit margin and prevent them from bringing back their full workforces.
In Schenectady, Rivers Casino & Resort normally has a workforce of approximately 1,050 and a capacity of 4,380 patrons. That means Rivers can host a maximum of 1,095 guests at a time under the initial reopening protocol. The number of employees who will return to work — nearly all have been furloughed — has yet to be determined.
General Manager Justin Moore said Rivers is still seeking guidance on some aspects of the state rules, but has received one critical clarification — the casino can operate its table games. It initially appeared that it could not.
With the table games operating, Rivers believes it can clear enough of a profit to justify reopening at 25 percent capacity; if it could not turn a profit, it wouldn’t reopen.
“Obviously it’s going to be tight, but it is going to be enough,” Moore said.
He said the waterfront casino would announce a reopening date soon. The adjacent Landing Hotel will reopen a week after the casino reopens, to allow time for the guest volume to rebound a bit.
The Capital Region’s other gambling facility — Saratoga Casino Hotel — is a video lottery casino co-located with a harness horse racing track. Such racinos located outside New York City are included in the order Thursday allowing casinos to reopen; their horse tracks have been operating without fans and must continue without fans.
Saratoga Casino Hotel welcomed the news in an emailed statement: “We are confident that we will be able to meet all guidelines set forth by the state to ensure a safe and entertaining environment for our guests and team members. Once we have thoroughly reviewed the document we will officially announce the reopen date for Saratoga Casino Hotel.”
New York’s non-Indian casinos have been shut down since March 15 as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. They’ve been kept shut even as other large gathering places were allowed to reopen because they’re deemed high-risk and non-essential by the state. They’ve been among the few remaining types of businesses still unable to open, along with movie theaters.
The shutdown — which continued even as New York’s Indian casinos and nearby states’ non-Indian casinos reopened — cost the state and local governments millions of dollars in tax revenue, and put thousands of employees on extended furlough.
That could start to change next week.
“Today’s a great day,” said Moore. “Best day I’ve had in a while.”
Rivers has been making extensive preparations to reopen safely, even knowing that the final state-issued reopening protocol could be different from what they were doing, requiring Rivers to undo and redo some steps at additional expense.
A few of the steps Rivers took exceed the state requirements as issued Thursday. At table games, for example, the state is requiring a barrier between the dealer and players, Moore said. Rivers has erected those, and also installed barriers between players.
Some other changes that Rivers patrons will notice, Moore said, include no beverage service on the gaming floor, no live entertainment and no promotions designed to bring large crowds in.
“Everything else, I guess we’ll see,” Moore said. “We’re still getting confirmation on sports betting.”