Virus impact on Maryland casinos laid bare

By Ethan Anderson Updated
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Revenue for Maryland’s casino industry fell by more than a quarter last financial year as the coronavirus pandemic swept through the American state.

Biz Journals reports that the closure of gambling facilities, including Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino contributed to the downturn.

State gaming and lottery officials have offered a first look at the virus’ impact on Maryland’s six casinos, as well as their recovery, which began last month after a three-month closure.

Casino revenues for FY2020 totalled $1.3 billion, down 27.3 per cent compared to the nearly $1.8 billion generated in FY2019.

The fiscal year spanned July 2019 to June 2020 – a time period encompassing the mandated closures that began on March 16 to help the slow the virus’ spread.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan allowed the state’s six casinos to reopen at half capacity from June 19.

Some waited longer to return, while others reopened in phases, offering members-only days before opening their doors to the general public.

That partial reopening added up to $34.9 million in casino revenues in June, according to Monday’s report.

Live Casino, which reopened for invited guests on June 19 and for the public on June 29, accounted for nearly half of the total, pulling in nearly $15.9 million from slots and table games.

Horseshow Casino, which welcomed back a limited audience on June 26 and opened for the general public two days later, reported $2.6 million in revenues in June.

The industry had been on an upward climb since 2019, with four months of increasing year-on-year revenues – including a 10.6 per cent boost in February, before the COVID-10 outbreak began.

Forced closures sliced the industry’s revenue by almost 60 per cent in March.

The lost revenue cuts into contributions to the state’s Education Trust Fund, which supports public education, as well as purses for horse racing and local impact grants for communities surrounding the casinos.

When casinos might see a complete return to business is unclear.

For now, they are limited to 50 per cent capacity and have reduced the number of pokies machines available on the gaming floor as well as the number of seats at gaming tables to enable social distancing.

Patrons and staff are required to have their temperatures screened and wear face masks.

Still, some casino operators see hope in what they describe as pent-up demand from gamblers.

“Customers over time are getting used to the new world,” Live general manager Anthony Faranca said last month.

“I think we will see a natural return to growth over time.”

Massachusetts casinos given the all clear to reopen

Massachusetts casinos have finally been cleared to reopen to the public, albeit under significant operating restrictions.

Calvin Ayre reports that last Thursday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted to lift the temporary suspension of gaming operations at the state’s casinos and racetracks that was imposed in mid-March due to COVID-19.

Casinos could reopen as early as Monday, July 6, but must first submit plans indicating compliance with state-mandated health and safety precautions.

These including keeping a minimum six-foot separation between operating slots positions or installing plexiglass dividers no less than six feet tall between operating slots.

Blackjack tables will also have to feature plexiglass dividers between individual players – no more than three per table – and between players and dealers.

For the time being, the MGC won’t permit poker, craps or roulette tables to operate.

The restrictions are expected to effectively limit each casino’s individual capacity to around 25 per cent of normal.

All casino guests, as well as staff, will be required to wear face masks, which will be provided free to guests if they don’t bring their own.

Beverages will be permitted on the gaming floor, but only for seated customers who are “actively engaged in gambling” and guests won’t be permitted to carry or drink beverages while moving about the gaming area.

Penn National Gaming’s slots-only Plainridge Park Casino will kick off the reopening party on July 8, while Wynn Resorts’ Encore Boston Harbor casino plans to reopen on July 12, with MGM Resorts’ MGM Springfield set to follow on July 13.

A little further down the eastern seaboard, five Atlantic City casinos reopened to the public on Thursday, while Caesars Entertainment’s three properties followed on Friday.

Early reports indicated that casinos were operating at or near their current maximum 25 per cent capacity.

Atlantic City’s casinos are also under a strict prohibition on any indoor dining and aren’t allowing any beverages or smoking on the gaming floor.

Those latter rules convinced the market’s top casino performer, MGM’s Borgata, to forego reopening for the time being.

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