Tioga Downs Owner Pushing For Relaxed COVID-19 Restrictions At Casinos

Written By Matthew Kredell on October 12, 2020 - Last Updated on November 29, 2022

When people are at a New York casino sitting at a slot machine or table game, the house wants them to feel comfortable and stay awhile. That usually means sipping on a drink, whether it be a beer, cocktail, soda, or water.

That’s not available at New York casinos right now, at least not the commercial casinos. And that’s a big disadvantage.

Customers who might normally sit on the casino floor for hours at a time aren’t doing so without hydration.

This is one reason Jeff Gural, owner of Tioga Downs Casino Resort, is disappointed with revenues so far in the month since New York allowed commercial casinos to reopen at limited capacity.

Gural spoke with PlayNY about the changes he’d like to see to make New York casino gaming more viable once more.

Limitations for New York casinos

Tioga Downs, Resorts World Catskills, and Rivers Casino all reopened Sept. 9. Empire City Casino in Yonkers waited until Sept. 21.

However, they face many restrictions in reopening in an attempt to provide safe gaming environments for patrons during the pandemic.

Here are some of the key differences between commercial casinos versus pre-pandemic:

  • Limited to 25% capacity on the casino floor
  • Not allowed to offer craps our roulette, two of the most popular table games
  • No beverage or food service on the gaming floors; buffets closed
  • Mandatory wearing of face masks by employees and guests
  • Required temperature screenings on entry
  • No valet parking
  • Limited entry points

As sovereign nations, tribal-run casinos in New York don’t face the same restrictions.

“We’re only a few miles from Turning Stone and they have almost no restrictions, so it’s almost impossible for us to compete with them with the restrictions they put in place for us,” Gural said. “I don’t know what to do there.”

Changes New York casino owner hopes to see

After six months with no revenue coming in, Gural is happy to have Tioga Downs open and bringing in revenue once more.

Sportsbooks also reopened within the New York casinos, which is important since they aren’t allowed to offer sports bets online.

However, to move casinos toward where they once were in terms of profitability, he would like to see changes in the following areas:

  • Expanding capacity to 50%
  • Extending max players per gaming table from three to five
  • Allowing beverage service for non-alcoholic beverages
  • Easing chip-washing requirements

Gural believes that with the plexiglass barriers between slot machines and gaming positions, mask requirements, and improved air filtration systems, players could be allowed to lower their masks to sip a drink. Tribal casinos have self-serve soda and coffee stations on the gaming floor.

Gural called the table game rules “ridiculous.” Chips need to be removed from play and cleaned every time they go between player and dealer or cashier. He doesn’t think such frequent cleanings should be necessary when players are required to use hand sanitizer when joining and leaving the table.

New York casinos waiting on governor

Gural said the casinos have not yet asked the governor for an ease on restrictions because they know he is concerned about a second wave.

However, none of the four New York commercial casinos are in cluster hot spot zones.

Tioga Downs did have one bartender come down with coronavirus. He didn’t come to work once symptoms started and there didn’t appear to be any spread, according to Gural.

He is hoping that Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses some of the issues to put commercial casinos more on an even level with tribal casinos. Cuomo and state health officials may reassess rules Nov. 1.

“There’s been no spike in the area since we reopened,” Gural said. “I think after a month, we can go to them and say there hasn’t been a spike and ask for lighter restrictions. Maybe they’ll be sympathetic, who knows.”

Photo by Sergey Pakulin | Dreamstime.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell reports on efforts to legalize sports wagering and online casino gaming around the country. He covered the multi-year effort to legalize online sports betting in New York from the beginning. He talks to state lawmakers, lobbyists and industry representatives to get the scoop on new gambling developments in the Empire State and was at the forefront when the state budget included the authorization of legal online sports betting in 2021. Matthew has covered the legal gambling industry since 2007, getting into regulated sports betting three years later. An alum of USC, Matthew began his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has also contributed to publications that include Playboy, Men’s Journal and ESPN.

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