Pennsylvania casinos face second lockdown, Maryland capacity halved


Pennsylvania’s casinos are going back under pandemic lockdown, while Maryland’s venues will see their capacity halved (again). 

On Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced new pandemic lockdown rules that will see 12 state casinos shut their doors effective 12:01am on Saturday (12). The state’s one other casino, Rivers Casino Philadelphia, was shut on November 20 under that city’s new ‘Safer at Home’ restrictions. 

At present, Rivers Philadelphia is tipped to reopen on January 2, while the other 12 casinos won’t be allowed to welcome customers until 8am on Monday, January 4. The new rules apply not just to casinos but also virtually any venue offering indoor entertainment.  

Wolf, who made his announcement from quarantine after himself testing positive for COVID-19, used words such as ‘frustrating’ and ‘painful’ to describe the new lockdown, but the situation was sufficiently “dire” to warrant “further mitigation efforts” after the state recorded around 1k COVID-related deaths in the past week.  

The casinos endured a costly three-month shutdown this spring and Penn Live reported that nine casino executives sent Wolf a written plea on Wednesday arguing against a second shutdown, pointing out the “tens of millions” they’d spent installing “every safeguard imaginable” and training staff to “follow and enforce extensive safety protocols.” 

The execs also objected to Wolf’s timing, saying that “logistically, it is not feasible” to wrap up operations on just a few days’ notice. The casinos cited the time and effort required to secure thousands of slot machines and “move substantial sums of cash off-premises.” 

One month ago, Pennsylvania casinos were celebrating their success in protecting staff from COVID, reporting a positive case rate that was nearly 2/3 lower than Nevada’s. But their pleas fell on deaf ears, leading to Wolf’s Thursday announcement. 

Pennsylvania at least has online sports betting/casino options to offset the loss of their retail operations, a perk that Maryland’s casinos do not yet enjoy. That truly sucks, because the casinos learned this week that their current 50% capacity was being further reduced to 25%. 

The casinos are not expected to be able to go back to 50% capacity until at least January 17, and that reprieve will come only if there’s some dramatic deviation from the current trend. The state has seen its COVID infection rate triple since November 1 while hospitalization cases hit a record 1,715 on Wednesday. 

Maryland casino gaming revenue fell 8.6% from October to November, ending a streak of sequential growth that started once the casinos were allowed to reopen this summer after their spring shutdown. Did someone say something about a vaccine?