No evidence tying COVID outbreaks to NJ’s casinos

Daniel J. Munoz//November 19, 2020//

No evidence tying COVID outbreaks to NJ’s casinos

Daniel J. Munoz//November 19, 2020//

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Despite record-high new cases of COVID-19 across the state, and increasing numbers of fatalities and hospitalizations, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday that none of the outbreaks have been tied back to the nine casinos, which have been able to operate at reduced capacity since the start of July.

“We believe, based on the evidence that we have, that they’ve been able to responsibly manage their casino floors,” the governor said at a Wednesday afternoon press briefing on the state’s COVID-19 response.

New Jersey, over the past week, has seen multiple days in a row of more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases.

The governor and state health officials maintained that many of the new record-high caseloads are because of dramatically ramped up testing capacity.

In the spring “we had virtually no testing capacity. Right now we’re testing sometimes as much as 75,000 people a day,” the governor said in a CNN interview Thursday morning.”

But COVID-19 hospitalizations are now as high as they were in May when the state was coasting down from the first wave of COVID cases. Ventilator-usage, critical care patients, and daily fatalities are all also creeping back up.

Gov. Phil Murphy signs the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget at the Trenton War Memorial on Sept. 29, 2020.

“There is no way to sugarcoat any of these numbers. They are not good, and they are trending worse,” the governor said Nov. 18.

Even still, Murphy maintained that casinos remain low on the list of activities that he might restrict. That is opposed to indoor dining and elective surgeries, which could be part of the next round of restrictions as a means to reverse the surge.

“Whether it’s through [personal protective equipment], whether it’s through dividers, capacity management, temperature checks, review of symptoms, checks with people who go onto the floor, which is happening in all the casinos… there is not any evidence that there is either bad management of the floor or that there is a big outbreak coming from participating on the floor,” the governor said Wednesday.

Casinos have been allowed to operate at 25% capacity since the July 4 weekend – Prior to that, they were shut down in March and not be able to operate.

While they’ve been able to stay afloat – thanks to online gambling and sports-betting – the sprawling conference, events management, restaurant and hospitality industries have been held back by capacity restrictions and the second wave of outbreaks.

“Online forms of gaming should not be considered a substitute for land-based gaming in terms of overall recovery for the industry,” cautioned Jane Bokunewicz, coordinator of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University.

“Without guests on property, Atlantic City’s casinos are limited in their ability to leverage non-gaming amenities which limits their ability to put more employees back to work.”

The governor signed an order last week that prohibits bar-seating, and that indoor dining has to stop at 10 p.m. local towns and cities can enact their own curfews on non-essential businesses.

He’s maintained that private indoor gatherings are driving up transmission, as the cold weather pushes people inside – much to the ire of restaurant owners and business groups who’ve questioned why the restrictions are still being pursued.

Borgata Hotel Casino said last Friday it had to lay off roughly 73 staff and cut hours of another 349 workers, as a direct result of the governor’s indoor dining restriction, which they said was devastating to a bottom line already weakened by the pandemic.

The Borgata posted a nearly 90% hit to its brick and mortar winnings in July compared to the same month the year prior, a 44% hit in August, a 31% hit in September and a 20% hit in October.

Only two casinos fared better last month than in 2019 at their casino floors – Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Casino Resort – both of which were the two most recent casinos to open their doors in the South Jersey resort town.