For months, Philadelphia’s two casinos have faced stricter operating guidelines from the city than is true for competitors statewide, with no smoking allowed inside. And starting next week, the Rivers Philadelphia and Live! Philadelphia properties face a new COVID-19 requirement that others don’t: the need to verify that everyone entering their properties has been vaccinated to help prevent spread of the illness.
Mayor Jim Kenney and city health officials announced Dec. 13 that the casinos, like all restaurants and other establishments serving food indoors, would fall under the requirement starting Jan. 3.
“To counter rising COVID-19 cases rates and hospitalizations in our area, on January 3, 2022, a vaccine mandate will go into effect for indoor establishments serving food or drink. Any establishment in Philadelphia that sells food or drink for consumption on site … may admit only those people who have completed their vaccine series against COVID-19,” read the formal order issued Dec. 17 by the Philadelphia Board of Health.
The casinos have not publicly discussed their plans for complying with the order. Presumably, the staff members at Rivers and Live! who are accustomed to making sure everyone entering is at least 21 years old will, starting Monday, also be tasked with seeing a record on paper or on phone showing documentation the individual has been vaccinated.
A representative of Live! said she had no comment when contacted by Penn Bets, and Rivers issued the following statement: “We don’t have any information to provide regarding the city of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Rivers Casino Philadelphia continues to follow all city, state, and CDC health and safety protocols.”
A few casinos elsewhere have similar requirement
The potentially cumbersome aspect of checking each customer’s vaccination status is unusual for a casino, but not unprecedented. It has been more common to have mask requirements of patrons and employees, which was once the case in Pennsylvania and continues to be in Las Vegas, but some jurisdictions have taken stronger steps.
The city of New Orleans mandated such verification starting in August at Harrah’s New Orleans, and Resorts World Casino in Queens, N.Y., fell under a state order in November to check everyone’s status upon admittance.
In Canada, the various provinces all also require casinos to verify vaccinations, but Quebec took even stronger action Dec. 20 by shutting down its casinos, the kind of government order that was common in Pennsylvania and elsewhere in March of 2020 when the coronavirus first broadly emerged.
The new concern stems from the surge in cases in recent weeks, driven in many places by the Omicron variant. Government officials have cited data that unvaccinated individuals are the ones filling hospital beds, thus prompting new efforts to increase vaccinations.
The Philadelphia Board of Health noted in its order that COVID-19 hospitalizations rose more than 50% from Nov. 26 to Dec. 10, with 79% of them being unvaccinated individuals.
“Studies have indicated and public health experts have concluded that indoor dining is a significant driver of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because it is not possible to wear a mask while eating or drinking,” the order stated.
Until Jan. 17, patrons seeking admittance may, as an alternative, provide proof of a negative test for COVID-19 conducted within the previous 24 hours. But after that date, individuals will be expected to have completed two doses of the vaccine. The order makes no mention of booster shots.
Rivers casino already had some challenges
For operators of the two Philadelphia casinos, one big question is how the new order will affect their visitations and revenue by excluding one-fourth or so of the potential population that is unvaccinated.
Rivers Philadelphia’s revenue already took a hit in the past year from both COVID-related issues and the opening of Live! last January. In November, Rivers garnered $20 million in slots and table games revenue, compared to $24.8 million in November 2019 before there was either the coronavirus or a new competitor within city limits.
Live! itself made $16 million in November gaming revenue.
As there are abundant other options in counties adjacent to Philadelphia, it is possible that Parx, Valley Forge Casino Resort, and Harrah’s Philadelphia (located in Chester, Delaware County, despite its name) will pick up additional patronage from unvaccinated individuals. Those properties currently have no COVID-related restrictions.