Rivers Philadelphia Reopens Friday As State’s Last Casino Back In Business

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Rivers Casino Philadelphia announced on March 13 it would be voluntarily closing for a two-week period two days later, due to “an abundance of caution” over COVID-19 health concerns.

Now, more than four months later instead of two weeks, it will reopen at 9 a.m. Friday. The coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the casino far longer than initially anticipated, as has been the case for virtually everything in society.

The Rush Street Gaming property in the state’s largest city announced Tuesday the plans to greet customers again late this week, with many of the same precautions taken in the other 11 casinos that already resumed operations in Pennsylvania.

That means everyone wearing masks, a ban on smoking, reduced slot machines in operation, limits on seating at table games, no poker, no indoor drinking or dining, no valet parking, and lots of hand sanitizer and wipes available.

Rivers Philadelphia will also be closed from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays for a cleaning period.

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And while the state is limiting casinos to 50% of their maximum occupancy, the casino said it will go beyond that. It will be “limiting gaming floor capacity to 25% occupancy until further notice,” with occupancy managed by a customer counter at the North Entrance.

City’s special restrictions delayed reopening

The 11 other casinos in the state began reopening on different dates last month as their counties moved into the “green phase” of the Wolf administration’s color-coded response to COVID-19. The green status meant most normal business-related activities could resume, though with restrictions such as the occupancy limit.

The city of Philadelphia continued imposing its own restriction on large gatherings, however, and Rivers was required to remain closed until receiving authorization that recently came through from the city’s health officials.

Its reopening Friday will make that the first day since mid-March that all 12 casinos in the state are back in operation.

“Since voluntarily shutting down in March, we’ve been listening closely to public health experts and making changes,” Rivers General Manager Rob Long said in a statement issued Tuesday. “Our goal is to provide the safest possible environment, and we’ll continue evolving as new information becomes available.”

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has set minimum health and safety standards that all casinos must adhere to in order to operate, such as making sure social distancing requirements are in place. The operators have a degree of individual flexibility, however, on how to go about coronavirus-related precautions.

Like a number of other casinos in the state, including its Rivers Casino sister property in Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia casino will be conducting temperature checks of everyone entering. It will deny entry to those reading 100.4 degrees or higher.

A number of slot machines will be turned off or separated by plexiglass, and table game play will be capped at three players for blackjack and four for baccarat. At standing games such as craps and roulette, players will be separated by plexiglass.

Lost revenue might be at least $108 million

The COVID-19 shutdown has been a severe blow to Rivers, almost certainly costing it more than $100 million in revenue.

Formerly named the SugarHouse casino, the property opened in 2010 as one of the state’s largest gaming facilities.

It earned some $320 million in 2019 – fourth most in the state — from its 1,761 slot machines, 145 tables, and new retail sportsbook. That amounted to on-site revenue of more than $876,000 daily, which would equate to some $108.7 million sacrificed during 124 days of shutdown by this Friday.

Rivers also had good momentum going early this year, with a 31.4% increase in overall revenue this February compared to February 2019. That increase was the highest in the state among casinos, stemming in large part from a boost in table games revenue. Table games have always played a larger role in income for Rivers than is the case in most of the state’s casinos.

Rivers does provide online/mobile casino games and sports betting at playsugarhouse.com, which has at least provided some revenue during the shutdown, though nowhere near that of what the brick-and-mortar operation normally takes in.

The casino has more than 1,700 employees, and officials said more than half of them will be recalled to work initially. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported recently that the casino’s salaried employees have been forced to take a 15% pay cut, although that is not the case for its hourly workers.

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 [email protected].

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