Jersey Governor announces smoking, eating and drinking ban at casinos

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
Pittsburgh casino goes live in November 

New Jersey casinos have banned smoking, drinking and eating as its Atlantic City casinos reopen after months of coronavirus-related shutdowns.

Tampa Bay Times reports the announcement from Governor Phil Murphy landed like a one-two punch on the casino industry, that is already reeling from losing revenue during the pandemic.

It has been making plans to creak back to life at the state-manded 25 per cent of normal capacity, before being hit with a no smoking, drinking and eating clause.

“No booze? No one’s coming,” said president of the casino employees union Bob McDevitt.

“I really don’t even think they should open. Why would they?”

Many casinos had planned to reopen on July 2, the first day the state will let them.

That was before they knew they could not let their customers smoke, drink alcohol or anything else, or eat inside the casinos.

Casinos rethink plans to open up again

The top-performing Atlantic City casino, the Borgata, almost immediately folded what it saw as a losing hand, announcing it was scrapping its reopening plans for the immediate future.

Instead, it will wait until conditions are more favourable.

On June 30, casino executives huddled in staff meetings, looking for more information and trying to decide whether it made sense to reopen at all.

The Resorts, Ocean, Tropicana and Golden Nugget casinos said they will reopen July 2 as planned.

President of Hard Rock International Jim Allen said that as of June 30, the company still planned to reopen its Atlantic City casino but that no final decision had been made.

“This is a 180-degree turnaround,” he said.

Hard Rock, like the other eight casinos, had been making reopening plans that included smoking, drinking or indoor dining as integral.

Mr Murphy said that on June 30, casinos will just have to ensure a new reality until conditions improve.

“It’s not a life sentence,” he said.

“We would like to be full-bore open; we’re just not there yet.”

Before the pandemic, Atlantic City had started to regain its groove, reclaiming its former spot as the nation’s number two gambling market behind Nevada in terms of annual gambling revenue.

Nevada casinos reopened nearly a month earlier than those in New Jersey, with many of the same health protocols: temperature checks for guests and workers, mandated masks after being optional for a time, and hand sanitiser stations.

Smoking was still allowed.

Within minutes of Murphy’s announcements, made in a news release issued shortly before 10pm on June 29, social media lit up with complaints.

Some grumbled that the governor had sucked the fun out of the casino experience, even as a smaller number defended the decision on public health grounds.

Some said they were scrapping long-planned trips, and other said they would take their business to Pennsylvania casinos.

Some vowed to come anyway, mixing drinks in their rooms and bringing sandwiches for dinner.

Bans to reduce the number of workers set to return to

The bans will also reduce the number of laid-off workers who will return.

Drink servers and indoor restaurant workers were to comprise a significant portion of the force that had been envisioned.

Mr McDevitt said 60 per cent of his union members had been scheduled to return to work this week.

Now as few as 30 per cent may go back.

Casinos can offer outdoor dining, and those with beach bars, outdoor decks or Boardwalk seating still plan to offer it.

Alcohol will still be sold in liquor stores and non-casino businesses.

Mr Murphy said he reversed course on indoor dining because of the continuing outbreaks in parts of the country, even though New Jersey has seen a significant reduction in the number of its virus cases.

A significant portion of Atlantic City’s casino customers come from New York, which leads the nation in total virus cases.

Mr Murphy said crowds at popular spots at the Jersey Shore and elsewhere have not bee following social distancing rules or wearing masks.

That angered many in the casino industry.

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