[This story has been updated from an initial posting]
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh plan to end lengthy shutdowns due to COVID-19 health concerns by reopening Tuesday.
The Washington County casino at mid-day Wednesday became the first of Pennsylvania’s 12 gaming properties to announce its plan to resume operations. It will do so at noon Tuesday.
On its website, the Rivers Casino posted details of a reopening plan for 9 a.m. Tuesday. Normally open 24 hours, the casino’s information stated it would be on a reduced schedule from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. on weekdays, and then open continuously over the weekend.
The much smaller Lady Luck Nemacolin in Fayette County is the only other casino also permitted to reopen to customers as soon as late this week, but is has not announced plans to do so.
Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded system for dealing with the coronavirus, the three southwestern Pennsylvania casinos as of Friday will all be in the “green” phase under which entertainment venues such as casinos can open. The other nine casinos, for now, remain in yellow or red phases keeping them closed.
Casino not opening on first possible day
While the Meadows and Rivers ostensibly could open as soon as Friday — subject to approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board — they are waiting until four days later due to the extensive preparations required.
Casinos face a number of new health and safety requirements from minimum guidelines posted by the gaming board, and they are also required to submit individual plans outlining all of the additional steps they will take designed to keep guests and employees safe.
In a brief statement announcing noon Tuesday as the target to open the doors, Meadows General Manager Tony Frabbiele said, “We have been working closely with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, state and local leaders, and public health officials to finalize comprehensive reopening protocols and new health and safety precautions.
“We look forward to sharing details of our property-specific procedures in advance of reopening and welcoming back our team members and customers.”
The announcement Wednesday afternoon made no reference to a date for the return of harness racing at the Meadows. Preparations for the sport’s return are being made under a separate procedure involving the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission and the state Department of Health, and an announcement of racing dates in June could also be forthcoming this week.
Casinos will operate much differently from before
When the Meadows reopens its casino for the first time since March 16, the Penn National Gaming property will be different from before in various facets that limit operations. The governor’s order, for instance, states that casinos and other entertainment venues can only be at 50% of normal maximum occupancy at any time.
The minimum standards established by the gaming board also dictate that casinos’ poker rooms and valet parking services will remain shut down indefinitely.
Both patrons and employees will be expected to wear masks at all times, and the casino will have to spell out procedures for how it will maintain social distancing separation among players at its slot machines and table games. That could mean steps such as disabling or blocking off every other slot machine, and the number of players permitted at each blackjack, roulette, and craps table will almost certainly be reduced.
Casinos will also be expected to have extensive disinfecting procedures for the many machines, tables, counters, and surfaces with which the public frequently comes into contact.
In its web posting, the Rivers said it would have more than 100 hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipe stations available throughout the gaming floor.
Similar requirements have been common at casinos opening gradually in recent weeks, although the details vary by state or by operator. As of Wednesday, about one-third of the 989 casinos in the nation had reopened, according to the American Gaming Association.