Still Open, But New York Casinos Required to Limit Hours Amid Increased COVID-19

Written By Martin Harris on November 18, 2020 - Last Updated on November 24, 2021

After shutting their doors for six months during the spring and summer, commercial casinos and racinos in New York all reopened in September.

Now, two months later, those establishments are having to scale back their operations once again in response to a mounting “second wave” of COVID-19.

Per restrictions recently announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that means narrowing casino hours of operation.

Casinos among businesses affected by new hourly restrictions

Cuomo announced the new restrictions last week. The new measures primarily affect locations identified by contact tracing as contributing significantly to the increased spread of the virus. Those locations include “establishments where alcohol is served, gyms, and indoor gatherings at private homes.”

The order limits indoor and outdoor gatherings at private residences to a maximum of 10 people. It also requires all bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers to close by 10 p.m. each night and not reopen before 5 a.m. That restriction applies as well to the state’s 12 commercial casinos and racinos.

The requirement went into effect Nov. 13.

Commercial casinos reduce hours, tribal casinos not affected

All four commercial New York casinos immediately reduced their hours as required:

  • del Lago Resort & Casino (Waterloo) — open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Jake’s 58 Hotel & Casino (Islandia) — open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Resorts World Catskills (Monticello) — open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Rivers Casino & Resort (Schenectady) — open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The state’s racinos have similarly altered their hours of operation:

  • Batavia Downs Gaming & Hotel (Batavia) — 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Empire City Casino (Yonkers) — 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack (Farmington) — 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Hamburg Gaming (Hamburg) — 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Resorts World Casino New York and Aqueduct Racetrack (Jamaica) — 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Saratoga Casino & Hotel (Saratoga Springs) — 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Tioga Downs Casino Resort (Nichols) — 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Vernon Downs Casino & Hotel (Vernon) — 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

As the tribes have separate gaming compacts with the state, tribal casinos are not required to follow the new hourly restrictions.

Some are nonetheless closing during the early morning hours. Others, such as the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino (Niagara Falls) and the Turning Stone Resort & Casino (Verona), are presently open 24 hours.

Restrictions arrive two months after reopenings

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, and New York City swiftly became an epicenter for the coronavirus in the US. All New York commercial casinos and racinos were ordered to shut down by March 16 with tribal casinos following suit as well.

While the tribal casinos all reopened in June and July, the commercial properties all remained shuttered. Finally, in early September, Cuomo announced the commercial casinos could reopen with restrictions.

Almost all of them began welcoming back customers Sept. 9, the first day they were able to do so. Empire City Casino waited until Sept. 21 to reopen.

The reopenings came with several mandated restrictions. Casinos could only operate at 25% capacity. Slot machines had to be set up at least six feet apart, with physical barriers set up between players at table games. Guidelines such as requiring masks, social distancing and temperature checks also went into effect.

Del Lago furloughs employees following new restrictions

After reducing its hours to stay in line with the state’s new COVID-19 restrictions, del Lago Resort & Casino furloughed 50 employees.

Lance Young, executive vice president and general manager of del Lago, called the decision “difficult” and a result of “our limited operations schedule.”

Del Lago was closed for nearly six months before reopening Sept. 9 with an estimated 225 of its original 1,100 employees.

Prior to the pandemic, del Lago frequently exceeded $3 million in weekly gross gaming revenue and wrapped up the 2019-20 fiscal year with over $151 million.

That said, casinos in New York remained closed for the first five months of the current fiscal year.

New York, other states brace for additional shutdowns

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once more increasing throughout the country. In some instances, these figures have equaled or surpassed numbers from the initial surge in the spring.

On the day the latest hourly restrictions went into effect, New York reported more than 5,000 cases of COVID-19 for the first time since April. The positivity rate from tests was 2.65%. Many in New York are eyeing that positivity rate as an indicator of possible further restrictions.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio then indicated if the city’s positivity rate’s seven-day average were to exceed 3%, the city’s school system would have to close. That indeed happened, and today came the announcement NYC schools were moving to all-remote learning starting Thursday.

Cuomo has said schools throughout the state would only have to close if the positivity rate were to exceed 9%.

Meanwhile, other states with surging COVID-19 numbers are facing similar questions regarding business operations, including casinos.

Both Massachusetts and New Jersey recently mandated reduced hours for casinos. In Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a series of new restrictions to take effect this week, including the closure of the state’s casinos.

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