Detroit casinos to reopen Aug. 5, too late for many staff


Detroit’s three casinos will finally get the chance to reopen next month, but the news comes too late for thousands of their former staff.

On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order that will allow Detroit’s three commercial casinos – MGM Resorts’ MGM Grand Detroit, Penn National Gaming’s Greektown and the privately held MotorCity – to open Wednesday, August 5, ending nearly five months of pandemic inactivity.

Whitmer noted in her order that the state’s numerous tribal casinos – which, as operated by sovereign entities, aren’t subject to the state’s authority – had managed to reopen without major incident and thus Detroit’s casinos are being trusted to conduct their operations in a similarly responsible manner.

However, as the casinos were warned last month, they will be subject to tough limits on their operations, including a hard cap of 15% of total occupancy limits. Guests will have to wear masks (unless eating or drinking) and guests won’t be allowed to smoke indoors. There is also a moratorium on self-serve food or drink, valet service, coat check and all live entertainment.

Croupiers will also have to wear masks, there are limits on the number of players per gaming table and an outright ban on poker tables for the present. Slot machines must either be separated by plexiglass barriers or switched off to ensure six feet of distance between machines in operation. 

The requirement to perpetually disinfect every surface in sight will keep a lot of staff on the hop but not nearly as many as would be required had the casinos been allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, a level that has been instituted in numerous other states.

Last week, MotorCity’s operator filed a WARN notice with the state detailing plans to lay off 2,554 staff members as of July 31. While the company hoped that the layoffs would be temporary, it admitted that many of the affected staff likely wouldn’t be returning.

MotorCity’s notice was preceded by Greektown’s announcement in June that 621 of the 2,000 staff who were temporarily laid off wouldn’t be coming back. The month before that, MGM announced plans to lay off 2,632 staff.

Detroit’s casinos are far from unique in announcing mass furloughs that eventually became layoffs. But as the new earnings season is indicating, many operators are reporting reduced revenue but similar or even higher earnings, reflecting the lower cost of doing business.

While only some of these cost reductions are labor related – for instance, everyone seems to want to permanently ditch their buffets – the fact that operators are managing to make a go of things despite a dramatically reduced payroll doesn’t bode well for staff at casinos that have yet to issue permanent layoff notices.