Monday’s decision by MGM Resorts International to delay the reopening of Atlantic City’s Borgata Casino serves as a reminder that responses to the coronavirus outbreak aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions.
Borgata Atlantic City Remains Closed
The company’s decision to not open as originally planned followed the decree from Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) to not allow indoor service of food and beverages, nor any smoking at the facilities.
Casinos were allowed to open last Thursday but only at 25 percent capacity. Gaming floors and other offerings have social distancing enhancements like fewer operating slot machines, fewer chairs at table games, and less seating at NJ sportsbooks.
Despite these restrictions and weeks of planning, MGM didn’t feel comfortable welcoming back guests.
“Our guests expect a special experience when they come to our property and if we cannot provide that level of hospitality, we feel it best that we remain closed until such time that the Governor lets us know it is safe to offer food and beverage,” the company said in a statement.
“The health and safety of our employees and guests are at the center of all that we do, and we regret that, at this time, we are unable to welcome back the thousands of employees who are anxious to return to work. We look forward to a time when it is safe to welcome everyone back.”
Those familiar with the AC market know Borgata has been the crown jewel of the seaside resort since opening in 2003. There are a certain allure and standard associated with the golden tower on the Farley marina.
MGM may have felt an obligation to clients and the public to maintain that reputation in making this decision.
Unlike their counterparts on the Boardwalk, the casino doesn’t have many options to offer outdoor dining. Also, refusal of beverage service means players can’t get drinks on the floor, nor can they order anything while watching games at the Moneyline book.
That’s a huge detraction for the significant investment the company made and opened last summer.
Murphy’s decision comes from southern states seeing major increases in coronavirus cases after they reopened indoor seating at bars and restaurants. California and Texas have started to mandate closures in some counties.
Casinos reopening in other states have also started to close again. In Las Vegas’ county, cases spiked last week and are much higher since the casinos reopened.
“We’re trying to stay one step ahead of this virus,” Murphy said Tuesday during his briefing.
Instead of focusing on cracking down on “knucklehead behavior” by non-compliant patrons and businesses he’s removing the overall risk.
While stats in the Garden State have trended down over the weeks, the cases in South Jersey are increasing at a slower pace than peak times in North Jersey. Murphy has been concerned by the lack of social distancing and wearing face masks in tourist areas, like the AC Boardwalk.
Closing casinos since mid-March has created an economic disaster for Atlantic City. Billions in lost revenue can’t be replaced, nor can months of lost wages by the 27,000 who work in the facilities. While NJ is looking to offer funds for casinos in loans, grants, and tax breaks, the workers are still in peril.
Many are lower-wage earners, often immigrants and from communities of color. Some work two or more jobs in the city to make ends meet. Continued closures or shuttering after opening for a few weeks would be likely more catastrophic than the original lockdown.
So far, it appears Borgata is the only casino who will remain closed as the reopen date approaches. Before the announcement to keep indoor dining closed, a FanDuel representative said there was no timeline to reopen the state’s most active retail outlet at the Meadowlands.
Murphy’s continued ban on indoor service could last much longer than earlier anticipated. If the decision causes others to reverse course and close again, this could return the hard times to the gaming destination following a resurgence over the last two years.
Balancing the needs of communities to be productive and not lay fallow during the summer months with the health benefits of closures one year before re-election is no easy task for Phil Murphy.