Question on some Pennsylvania casino patrons’ minds Monday: Do I need a mask?
Answer: Depends on which casino you’re visiting, and the answer a few days from now could differ from what it is today.
And technically, any easing of mask requirements is only supposed to apply to those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but in practical terms, no casino is likely to question patrons about it or otherwise attempt to enforce that expectation.
Once the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unexpectedly announced more liberal mask guidance policies Thursday — and the Pennsylvania Department of Health basically echoed the decision — the state’s 14 casinos began mulling how to react. In some cases, they dropped the face covering requirement almost immediately.
By Monday morning, unlike had been the case since their reopenings began last June, patrons could walk freely without face coverings around the gaming floors of Meadows Racetrack & Casino, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Lady Luck Nemacolin, Hollywood Casino, Harrah’s Philadelphia, and Parx Casino.
Based on comments to Penn Bets or information available on their websites, masks were still required at the two Live! properties in Philadelphia and Westmoreland County, Wind Creek Bethlehem, Valley Forge Casino Resort, Mohegan Sun Pocono, Mount Airy Casino Resort, and Rivers Philadelphia.
State agency left it up to casinos to decide
Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said the board is letting each casino determine how to make use of the new guidelines regarding facial coverings. The guidelines generally say masks should be worn indoors by those who are not fully vaccinated and in public facilities that could be crowded, such as those involving transportation, but they allow private businesses to determine whether to update their policies.
“The PGCB advised Pennsylvania casinos to exercise discretion to apply the revised CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines regarding masks and facial coverings indoors, with employees not fully vaccinated required to mask,” Harbach said in an email. The board has not, however, altered a temporary policy that bans smoking inside casinos, which was adopted as a tie-in with mask orders.
The casinos dropping the mask requirement did not spell out their reasoning, but in an industry that emphasizes customer service and upbeat atmospheres, they presumably felt it was time to allow the public to freely be shown enjoying themselves as they did in pre-pandemic times. Many employees also depend on tips to supplement their wages, and to smile at a customer never hurts.
While the coverings are a matter of customer choice at many venues now, the varying policies around the state were demonstrated by the fact that two casinos with the same ownership — Rivers Pittsburgh and Rivers Philadelphia — have different policies for now. A spokesman said that due to stricter government health guidelines from the city of Philadelphia, masks are still required at the casino there.
A visit to the Rivers Pittsburgh Saturday night revealed that even though signs had been altered to let visitors know that masks were not required for those who have been fully vaccinated, many sitting at slot machines or walking the floor continued to wear them.
Meanwhile, the Cordish Gaming Group, which also has to continue the mask requirement for now at its own Philadelphia Live! property, is retaining it for now at the Live! in Westmoreland County, even though it could be dropped there.
“At Live! Casino our top priority has always been the safety and well-being of our guests and team members. We are currently evaluating our policies regarding mask wearing. We still kindly ask that you please wear a mask when you are at Live! Casino until further notice,” said a company statement.
Similarly, representatives of Wind Creek Bethlehem and Mohegan Sun Pocono said policies are currently under review, but nothing has yet changed from prior requirements.
All of the casinos, meanwhile, are in the midst of planning for additional relaxation of policies that will enable them May 31 to return to full operations without social distancing requirements, so that their table games seating and slot operations can return to their pre-pandemic level of activity. Some, but not all, of the existing plexiglass in casinos is also to be removed, although officials say they expect more rigorous cleaning operations than in the past to continue, along with widespread availability of sanitary wipes and hand-cleaning dispensers.