The threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus has rippled further through Pennsylvania’s casino industry, prompting three more shutdowns following one Friday by Valley Forge Resort Casino.
Harrah’s Philadelphia, located in Chester, Delaware County, closed its doors at 6 a.m. Saturday in response to an order from Gov. Tom Wolf directing that all large public venues in that county should temporarily cease operations.
While the order did not extend to Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, Rush Street Gaming announced its Rivers Casino properties in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh would both shut down for two weeks effective Monday morning.
“Although there have been no known cases of COVID-19 at the property, we are suspending operations out of an abundance of caution and to promote the social distancing recommended by health officials,” a statement said, applying to both Rivers locations.
One bright spot for Rush Street Gaming’s business is that Rivers’ online casinos are operational, and they are likely to see an uptick in traffic as land-based casinos close their doors.
Eight casinos continuing, but for how long?
Eight other brick-and-mortar casinos in Pennsylvania have continued operating without announcement of major cutbacks, although they have had some cancellations of live entertainment, buffets, and horse racing.
While only one-third of the casinos are certain to be shuttered, it would not be surprising to see more such announcements, similar to the domino effect that took place this past week with cancellations in the sports world.
“I’m not aware of any other casino closing imminently,” Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey said Saturday morning. “With that said, things are changing quickly. There may be more.”
Casinos have stated they will continue paying employees during the shutdowns, but the operators will cumulatively be losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue. The impact will also be costly for the state, which receives some 40% of the casinos’ overall gambling revenue in tax dollars.
Pennsylvania’s industry is not alone in being impacted by the fears and special steps provoked by the coronavirus, as imminent shutdowns have also been announced affecting casinos in Illinois, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
Casino officials in Pennsylvania have stressed that none of the 41 COVID-19 cases identified in the state has been connected to any casino visit. The venues are part of the general concern over large gathering spaces, where coughing or sneezing by someone infected can contaminate someone nearby or the surfaces they touch.
Harrah’s uncertain when it will reopen
Unlike the other casinos announcing two-week shutdowns, Harrah’s Philadelphia left its return open-ended.
“This decision is a precautionary measure only made to ensure we are in compliance with local rules and regulations,” said a statement from the casino, owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp. “Harrah’s Philadelphia is closely monitoring this evolving situation and will work with local officials to establish a reopening date as soon as it is appropriate to do so.”
The action by Rush Street Gaming, pertaining to its two Pennsylvania properties, appeared voluntary in nature. Three presumed coronavirus cases have been identified in Philadelphia and none in Allegheny County.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, however, declared a state of emergency effective Monday banning gatherings of more than 250 people. Rush Street is also part-owner of an Illinois casino that is suspending operations for two weeks, along with others in that state.
At the Pennsylvania casinos still operating, there are signs that operations are anything but normal, such as lack of activity around their sportsbooks, the frequent sanitary wiping of machines by staff, and even some patrons wearing Latex gloves.
“I won some money,” one of those glove-donned patrons playing the slots told a pennlive.com reporter with a smile Friday at the Hollywood Casino in Dauphin County.
[UPDATE: On Saturday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced that Parx Casino in Bensalem will be closed to the public starting at 6 a.m. Sunday, and the Parx-operated South Philadelphia Race and Sportsbook, also known as the South Philly Turf Club, will begin its temporary closure at 10 p.m. Saturday.]
[UPDATE: Wind Creek Bethlehem has announced it will voluntarily shut down for two weeks effective at 6 a.m. Sunday. The casino said it will continue paying employees and will close “to play our role to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and with a focus on the well-being of our employees and guests.”]
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