PA’s Rules For Reopening Casinos Are Flexible, But Not When It Comes To Masks

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As multi-state casino operators reopen properties that have been shut down since mid-March by COVID-19 concerns, they’re finding different guidelines in each state to reshape their operations.

In Pennsylvania, where no date is yet set for when brick-and-mortar gambling operations can resume, the operators will fall under minimum standards that are stricter than elsewhere in some aspects and looser in a number of others.

For instance, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s “COVID-19 Casino Reopening Protocols” issued to the operators May 19 spelled out that every patron as well as employee should be wearing a mask.

In most states that have announced guidelines, masks are required of employees and must be made available to guests, but they are only encouraged instead of mandatory for the latter.

And no live poker will be available when the Pennsylvania casinos reopen, whereas some states are permitting it with no seating limits.

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Casinos will have some flexibility

Pennsylvania will have no specific limit on the number of people on the property, whereas many states are establishing a set limit such as 50% of normal maximum occupancy on the gaming floor — or in Louisiana’s case, just 25%.

Other states are adopting additional policies Pennsylvania has refrained from, such as mandating temperature checks of everyone entering the casino or specifying the number of seats that can be available at table games.

Mississippi, where casinos were permitted to reopen May 21, even requires verbal questioning of all entrants about their recent health history, including any vomiting or diarrhea in the past 24 hours.

While many details and requirements are spelled out in Pennsylvania’s 10-page listing of health and safety protocols, the gaming board has leaned toward more flexibility for operators than is the case in some states.

It has provided them with minimum standards and wants them to submit their own detailed plans that will be reviewed with all of the federal and state health officials’ recommendations about health and safety protection from COVID-19 in mind.

So they must have extensive cleaning/sanitation programs and social distancing policies that keep patrons six feet apart, but just how each casino goes about those will in many aspects be up to them – subject to board approval.

Casinos come in different sizes, and that matters

“Each casino is of different size and layout, so we believe our guidelines on submitting ‘plans to limit and/or manage the number of guests permitted at any one time to further applicable social distancing guidelines’ can be best made by the casino, based on their corporate safety protocols along with direction from state government and health officials,” gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach explained in an email Thursday.

In Louisiana, where casinos reopened May 18, and Nevada, where gaming can resume June 4, regulators expect body temperatures to be checked of everyone entering. Nevada even wants casinos to designate an area for COVID-19 testing of anyone who wants it, and the properties are to have medical crews on site.

Harbach said Pennsylvania casinos may include temperature checks as part of a plan for outlining how they will identify customers with illness and prevent their access to the property.

“We will review all individual plans for compliance to our protocols, but each casino is certainly committed to providing the safest environment for its patrons, who would refrain from entering a casino if proper guidelines were not in place,” he said.

In many cases, national casino operators have developed their own individual plans, which can require some tweaking for each state in which they operate.

That has been the case for Boyd Gaming, which has 29 properties in 10 states. One of those, the Valley Forge Casino Resort, is awaiting word in Pennsylvania on when it can reopen.

Boyd figures on 99% consistency among procedures

Boyd already has casinos open again in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kansas, with nine set to reopen next week in Nevada. It has a company-wide COVID-19 response plan called Boyd Clean to dovetail with each state’s regulations, said company spokesman David Strow.

“We think what we’ve developed are very stringent health and safety protocols that exceed the guidelines set forth not only by the CDC but by state regulators across the country,” Strow said.

“We know that when the opportunity comes to reopen Valley Forge and other Boyd properties, the No. 1 thing we have to address is making sure we are keeping people healthy and safe as they visit.”

Among the items outlined in Boyd Clean are making available masks and complimentary hand sanitizer; regularly disinfecting all surfaces such as slot machines, table games, tables, handrails, counters, and kiosks; increasing air filtering; and reconfiguring seating for slots, table games, and restaurants.

Boyd has no problem with making the specific adjustments required in each state, Strow said.

“We would follow their guidance, but 99% of what you see in Boyd Clean is going to be consistent across the portfolio,” he said, whether in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.

Photo 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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