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NJ casino group, AtlanticCare team for post-pandemic gaming reopening plan

Two of the largest South Jersey employers will put their heads together to gauge how to reopen New Jersey’s casinos once the Murphy administration allows it.

The Wednesday morning announcement by Atlantic City-based AtlantiCare and the Casino Association of New Jersey – a trade group which represents the state’s casinos – comes as the Murphy administration and federal officials eye how to begin rolling back restrictions that were enacted to halt the spread of COVID-19 throughout the country.

AtlantiCare and CANJ’s joint plan would “assist the Murphy administration and regulators in thoughtfully developing comprehensive reopening plans that prioritize the safety and well-being of employees, guests and the community-at-large,” reads a Wednesday statement.

The state’s casinos have been closed since March 16, under an order from Gov. Phil Murphy.

That’s led to across the board drops in revenue for the state’s gambling industry, which months ago was showing promising signs of growth. Thousands of casino and hospitality workers have also been laid off.

In March, the American Gaming Association estimated that a shutdown of just two months for the state’s nine casinos could spell a loss of $1.1 billion in economic activity and leave nearly 33,300 people in the state without a job.

Lori Herndon, CEO, AtlantiCare.

Herndon

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only threatened our health and safety, it has also threatened the stability of Atlantic City’s gaming and tourism industry, the industry’s workforce and families, and our state and local economies,” AtlantiCare President and Chief Executive Officer Lori Herndon said in the CANJ’s Wednesday statement.

AtlantiCare will share “regional health care metrics, data and forecasts,” and the “protocols and best practices” for AtlantiCare’s own reopening that were the most effective.

“We want Atlantic City to be ready to open as soon as the government determines it is appropriate to do so,” CANJ President Steve Callender said Wednesday.

“That is why we are working with our regional health care provider to develop a comprehensive plan that ensures our properties are prepared and ready to reopen when the stay-at-home order is lifted.”

The casino’s closures are part of sweeping closures and a virtual state of lockdown that Murphy ordered nearly six weeks ago with the aim of preventing the spread of COVID-19 across the state. That included a ban on public gatherings and nonessential travel, and the shutdown of most non-essential retail.

Murphy was initially resistant to ordering casino closures, arguing that social distancing – a minimum 6-foot distance between people – could be adhered to on the gambling floor; but he ultimately enacted the ban.

Ultimately, those measures have shown signs of working—the rates of new cases and hospitalizations have remained flat for weeks, and in recent days the number has even begun to decrease as new hospitalizations are also trending downward, prompting the Murphy administration to eye how restrictions can be lifted and businesses reopened.

On Monday, Murphy unveiled six milestones that the state needs to reach before restrictions can be rolled back.

The governor indicated on Monday that this timeline would span a “number of weeks, not months,” with a slim chance that some progress can be made before Memorial Day weekend. Then on Tuesday, Murphy announced the 21 members for a commission that will advise him on the order and timeline in which restrictions can be lifted to get the state’s economy moving again.

Daniel J. Munoz
Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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