Philadelphia’s Rivers Casino To Close By City Order, While Industry Statewide Sees More COVID Cases

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Rivers Casino Philadelphia was the last of Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos to reopen after COVID-19 shutdowns, finally getting a restart July 17, and now it will be the first to close again since then.

The city of Philadelphia on Monday afternoon announced a Department of Public Health order that imposes many business restrictions effective Nov. 20-Jan. 1, including the shutdown of casinos within the city.

Also affected are schools, indoor restaurant service, theaters, bowling alleys, museums, gyms, libraries, community centers, and more, “to help flatten the epidemic curve, prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, and reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths,” according to the city.

Rivers Philadelphia is the only casino operating within the city, although construction is nearing completion on the Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia that is to open in early 2021.

The Rivers Casino, owned by Rush Street Gaming, is one of the state’s largest and just recently reopened its poker room to join its slot machine and table game operations. Its sister property, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, is unaffected by the order but endured its own week-long shutdown in early July due to a similar Allegheny County order that affected many businesses catering to the public.

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A Rivers Philadelphia spokesman offered no immediate comment on whether the casino would be closing at 12:01 a.m. Friday or exactly when.

Other PA casinos keep going, but with restrictions

Philadelphia’s announcement comes on the heels of an order by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that will close Detroit’s three commercial casinos for at least three weeks effective Wednesday.

Other jurisdictions may follow, similar to how a series of such mandatory shutdowns across states took place in mid-March when COVID cases first began spiking throughout the U.S. There are no indications as yet that a similar order will come in Pennsylvania affecting the industry statewide.

A Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman said such decisions are left to the governor’s office, which relies on the state Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for that department said by email Monday afternoon, “We are looking at options to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to our health care systems and our hospitals. We anticipate making further announcements this week.”

Casinos are already operating under state restrictions that limit them to 50% occupancy, mandate masks and social distancing, ban indoor smoking, and prevent alcohol from being served except to those who are having meals.

Casino employees themselves see surge in cases

COVID cases have been increasing across Pennsylvania as well as the nation overall, and the number of affected casino employees shows the same trend.

The gaming board provided data to Penn Bets showing the casinos have reported 72 positive cases among employees just in the first half of November, up from 44 in the entire month of October. There have been 172 employee cases overall since the reopenings began in June.

Rivers Philadelphia places just fourth among the casinos, with 14 cases since reopening. The most have been reported by Parx with 47, Rivers Pittsburgh with 34, and Mohegan Sun Pocono with 15.

Even the new Live! Casino Pittsburgh, which doesn’t open to the public in Westmoreland County until next week, has already reported four cases among employees.

Parx has had 29 cases in the first half of November, though its representative told the Bucks County Courier Times early this month that none as of then had required hospitalization. The Courier Times published its story after a decision by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records required the gaming board to release specific casinos’ case counts, which it had previously withheld.

No information is available on how many COVID cases may be connected to members of the public visiting casinos.

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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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