Full House: Cuomo Eases COVID-19 Capacity Restrictions Affecting Commercial Casinos

Posted By Derek Helling on May 4, 2021

Upstate New York commercial casinos may not have to worry about compliance with customer headcounts for much longer. NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced further easement of capacity restrictions on businesses aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Despite the state backing off on its mandates, casino operators may remain cautious. It’s a continuation of the fluid state of affairs that many businesses in NY have had to adapt to since the onset of the pandemic.

Cuomo loosens up on capacity restrictions for NY businesses

The final day for the current 25% of fire code limit is May 18. Starting on May 19, virtually all restrictions for a litany of businesses in NY will expire. It isn’t that the state is suddenly disinterested in social distancing, though.

“The capacity restriction applies up to the point where you can afford six-foot distancing,” Cuomo said in a press conference.

Thus, the onus is on the management of NY’s four non-tribal casinos to determine where there is adequate space for social distancing on their properties. In areas where that isn’t possible, they might maintain tightened protocols. Those would be voluntary limits, though, not state-mandated.

There is one exception for the state-mandated capacity restrictions in large outdoor stadiums. Regardless of the event, the state will continue to impose a 33% fire code limit on May 19. Examples will include Highmark Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills play their home games.

This announcement comes about a month after Cuomo ended mandatory curfews that affected commercial casinos as well. It means perhaps the closest thing to pre-pandemic operation on their grounds yet. However, actual changes at the facilities may come gradually.

The changes you might see at NY commercial casinos

The benefit of post-dating this change is that it gives casino operators some time to adjust and plan. When restrictions lift on May 19, you might see them restore some gaming positions like opening up slot machines and seats at gaming tables that were shut down due to COVID-19 protocols.

It’s uncertain right now whether live entertainment venues and poker rooms will resume activity. Cuomo did share that the state will waive distancing requirements for events if the event promoters require proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test for admission.

Additionally, the erection of physical barriers between patrons is another path to loosened requirements. While that points toward the return to action for poker rooms, it doesn’t solve the problem of cards and chips changing hands during games. Thus, the wait could continue there.

As of Monday afternoon, Rivers Casino in Schenectady’s website still stated it would enforce a 25% of fire code capacity limit on its gaming floor. It also said that amenities like valet parking would remain unavailable.

Similar language – like continuing to require temperature screenings and proper wearing of face coverings for guests – also remains in place at del Lago Resort & Casino, Resorts World Catskills, and Tioga Downs Casino Resort. The Centers for Disease Control’s latest recommendations still include those protections.

Regardless, the lifting of New York’s capacity restrictions on gaming floors is a step in the right direction.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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