Covid-Related Cleaning Ends 24/7 Casino Operations In PA For Now

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Like 7-Elevens and truck stop plazas, U.S. casinos have long been among those commercial enterprises you could count on visiting any time, day or night.

That 24/7 option for on-site gambling is no longer the case, at least not in Pennsylvania.

When the Meadows Racetrack & Casino opens at noon Tuesday for the first time since March 16, it expects to greet swarms of gamblers with pent-up demand and only too happy to return — even if wearing mandatory masks and denied some traditional options such as the buffet or valet parking.

And 15 hours later, any patrons inside will be asked to leave.

The casino in Washington County last week announced details of reopening that include closing the property from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. daily, when it is to undergo intensive cleaning.

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That comes on the heels of an announcement by Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino that it will close for the same purpose from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, although it will be open continuously from Friday morning to Monday morning.

Decision about hours is up to each operator

A majority of the nation’s nearly 1,000 casinos have now reopened while undertaking various new steps, either by government order or of their own volition, to reduce chances that COVID-19 will be spread in the facility.

Those changes may include masks, temperature checks, plexiglass partitions, widespread cleaning, wider spacing of machines and players, and much more, but it has not been widely reported elsewhere that casinos have cut back their hours.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has left such decisions to operators, and both the Meadows and Rivers now consider it in their interest to close in those early morning hours.

It is not a time of day when the Pennsylvania casinos are typically filled with hundreds of players, especially on weekdays, and they’ve got other priorities to attend to in unprecedented fashion now.

“I just want to be able to disinfect the property without worrying about customers or other team members in the way of those efforts,” said Tony Frabbiele, general manager of the Meadows. It is one of two Pennsylvania properties owned by Penn National Gaming, whose Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County is not yet approved by the state to reopen.

“We don’t know how long that’ll be for,” Frabbiele said of the daily closure. “We think that’s the best strategy for us right now. If we see business volumes change and find more innovative, effective ways to clean the property while still operating, we’ll expand the hours.”

Three casinos open this week, nine remain shuttered

The Meadows will reopen three hours after Rivers as the two casinos some 30 miles apart in the southwest corner of the state restart Pennsylvania’s gaming industry.

The smaller Lady Luck Nemacolin announced it will reopen at 10 a.m. Friday, as Fayette County is also in the region newly labeled in the “green” phase of the Wolf administration’s color-coded system enabling resumption of most normal business activities. The nine other casinos remain for now in the restricted “yellow” phase.

A longtime harness track that added casino-style gaming in 2007, the Meadows has some 2,500 slot machines and 85 table games. The casino took in $238 million in gaming revenue last year, and based on that, the 84-day shutdown has cost it in the range of $55 million from gambling alone, which doesn’t count lost food, beverage, and hotel revenue.

Now it will reopen under a restriction that its 127,000-square-foot gaming floor can’t exceed 50% occupancy. It will have about half of its slot machines available, while table games will be reduced to a maximum of six players at craps, four at roulette, and three at blackjack and other card games.

Some of its dining spots will be closed, as will its poker room, bowling alley, and banquet and entertainment center.

Also, no live horse racing will be taking place immediately, although track officials are hoping any day to receive approval to resume from the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Expect some higher table game minimums

Frabbiele said the property will not be affected much by the 50% capacity restriction, and its costs are modified by having only about 40% of its workforce called back immediately and other new operating efficiencies.

Even if revenue won’t be what it once was, given all the new limitations, he said, “I think when you look at everything coupled together, we’re just excited to get the doors open and people back to work and some revenue flowing through.”

Among temporary changes to recognize the new fiscal reality, customers may not see any big promotional giveaways for a while that would attract sizable crowds. Also, Frabbiele said some of the minimum costs to play table games will be going up.

“The lower denomination bets will be pushed more toward our stadium gambling product,” where a larger number of table games players are served by a single dealer.

He doesn’t expect those or any other changes to deter potential guests, based on the sense given from phone calls to the property in recent days and responses on social media.

Frabbiele noted some of the changes related to social distancing and reduced players at tables had already taken place in the March days prior to closing, so they won’t be a shock to many regular patrons.

“People in the greater Washington County and Pittsburgh area are ready to return, and they understand the changes to the business, and are just excited to get back here,” he said. “Our goal is to have a nice steady flow coming in and give everybody a warm welcome.”

Image provided by Shutterstock

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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