After spending more than three months closed during the global pandemic, casinos and indoor dining will finally be able to reopen on July 2 at reduced capacity, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday.
Both casinos and restaurants can reopen at 25 percent capacity just two days before the July 4 weekend. Health and safety guidelines will be announced “within the next several days,” said Murphy.
Murphy said casinos would likely have mandatory face coverings, health screenings for patrons and staff, and density limits to ensure social distancing is followed within the brick and mortar establishments.
The governor said he was comfortable enough with some of the most telling metrics on how the virus spread in the state – the positivity rate of new cases, the rate of transmission of the virus and levels of hospitalizations – to justify the decisions of the past month.
“Because we’ve implemented strong social distancing measures and face covering requirements, we’ve put” the numbers “in places where we can move forward” and scale back restrictions, Murphy said Monday afternoon at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
Murphy said that “as we move forward, we fully anticipate being able to increase the indoor number as we feel it is safe to do so,” for sit-down dining.
Racetracks will be able to reopen under the same regulations as casinos, and can accept in-person bets and operate their sportsbooks.
Outdoor gatherings can expand from 100 to 250 people, Murphy said, and indoor gatherings to 25 percent capacity, capped at 100 people.
Atlantic City’s nine casinos are owned by companies with brick and mortar establishments in states where they were already allowed to reopen, granting them time to tinker with reopening plans.
Caesars Entertainment owns Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City, and has several properties in Las Vegas that reopened earlier in the month, including the Caesars Palace and Flamingo Las Vegas.
Landry’s Inc, which owns the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, has another casino-hotel of the same name in Las Vegas. The Connecticut-based Mohegan Tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun, also owns Resorts Casino Hotel.
Despite the mass closures, many of New Jersey’s casinos announced they had reopening plans put in place to simply pull the trigger when the date is reached.
Plans at Resorts and Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City call for automated thermal cameras to screen anyone entering the premises, plexiglass between gaming tables, and empty seats between occupied slot machines.
Several casinos, Murphy said, might opt to roll out limited soft openings on July 2 to gauge the effectiveness of these reopenings.
The entities were ordered to close on March 16 – followed by sit-down dining, gyms and theaters the next day – which has dealt a massive blow to the state’s casino industry, with triple-digit drops in revenue and lay-offs of tens of thousands of casino, hotel, restaurant and hospitality workers.
Online gaming and sports betting have offered a tenuous lifeline for the gaming industry.
Outdoor dining and bars were allowed to reopen at reduced capacity on June 15—the official start of “Phase 2” of the state’s reopening, as the COVID-19 pandemic slows down in New Jersey.
On Monday, Murphy said that June 22 was effectively the midpoint of Phase 2.
In all cases, face coverings must be worn indoors; a 6-foot minimum distance needs to be maintained among customers and employees, when possible; and business owners need to frequently sanitize the establishment.
Murphy has frequently shown anxiety about resuming indoor dining and casinos where customers closely interact, saying they’re the “toughest nuts to crack” because of their sedentary nature.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:21 p.m. EST on June 22, 2020 to include additional details regarding the reopening of casinos and racetracks, and expanded outdoor and indoor gathering capacities. It was also updated with additional comments from Gov. Phil Murphy.