Slowly, but surely, casinos are beginning to reopen their doors and welcome players in. As I write this, about 15 percent of casinos across the country have reopened thus far, and many more have begun announcing their reopening plans.
That means a lot of players not nearby casinos that have opened yet, wondering what they should expect. But we can learn a lot from the casinos that have opened so far.
How to Know Which Casinos Are Open
First off, let’s look at how to know what facilities are actually open right now. There are resources that are keeping track so you don’t have to:
- The American Gaming Association’s COVID-19 casino tracker tracked all the casino closings, and are now in turn tracking the openings, with an interactive map to help find casinos near you.
- Brian Christopher and his team are regularly updating this blog post with the casinos that are open, and also listing those that have officially announced a reopening date. (The casino-specific information is near the bottom.)
For individual properties, social media and their website continue to be the best source for information, since it changes regularly. One of my locals had a closed until date that changed at least five times from the time they closed down to the time they officially announced a reopening date.
So, once your local is reopened, what should you expect?
Crush Crowds are Likely
Casinos are promising such things such as reduced occupancies, every other slot machine off, a limited number of chairs at table games, along with a variety of sanitation efforts to keep the casinos clean. Sounds good on paper. What they didn’t expect is massive demand to return to casinos.
Many casinos have dealt with very long waits to get in. A few, like Angel of the Winds in Washington, got clever with an electronic queueing situation, where you wait in your car and get a text message when your turn to enter has arrived. But most have people waiting in long queues, some without the ability to successfully social distance.
It’s uncertain whether this will be maintained once the initial itch to get out to a casino wears off, but these lines have been repeated at enough casinos during their reopening days that you should decide whether being one of the first to get in there is worth fighting the crowds.
It Can Be Tough to Get a Slot Machine
Given the machine count limitations, I’ve seen reports of players playing longer on a machine because it’s so hard to get on another one. This also means sanitizing machines may be more difficult because they’re not freed up often enough.
At a minimum you should expect the popular games to be nearly impossible to get on, not that they were that easy before all the shutdowns.
Also expect the distinction between peak and off peak times to narrow. Some casinos were at maximum capacity before noon, with lines forming to get in and more people arriving than leaving. That means a larger percentage of the time there won’t be a lot of extra machines sitting around like is more common on weekday afternoons in casinos during normal times.
Slot Machine Payouts Will Be the Same
I previously wrote about this here, but I would not expect any payback settings changes on the slots. Any short term gains could be offset by short term variance. They have enough to deal with logistically and slots are plenty profitable without having to make any payback changes.
Many jurisdictions require a lot of effort and paperwork to change paybacks around, and if it’s a temporary step the cost to do it will outweigh what extra they can potentially make off a slot. Don’t expect any major changes here.
Table Minimums Could be Higher
With less players on a table, and table games still requiring human labor to run (barring stadium games, which will be more akin to slots above), it isn’t out of the realm of reason to expect higher table minimums.
Casinos will generally set them based on how busy properties are, since they will aim to maximize revenue by setting them to encourage full tables. With less spots and high demand, the obvious outcome will be a higher minimum.
I would expect these to be more fluid than the norm at a casino. At some of my locals I can predict when they’ll be likely to raise table minimums on a given day, and time my visits accordingly. Occasionally the crowds arrive early or late and the changes shift by a half hour or an hour, but traffic week to week tends to be pretty similar barring a special event or something like that.
Right now though, with this being uncharted waters, casinos will be more likely to tinker. They’ll probably start higher and come down as necessary, versus the other way around.
Offers and Promotions will Shift
I expect changes will happen around offers and promotions.
I was a bit rosier in my earlier estimation that offers would be improved to draw people back. The giant lines are going to give casinos opening later the green light to cut offers back or reduce who they send it to initially because, frankly, we’re proving we don’t need them to visit right now.
Free play and other comp offers also cost the casino money, and they can’t run at full capacity so cost management is key. So it’s very likely these sorts of offers will either be reduced or more restrictive in the short term.
Point multipliers and promotions have a softer cost because they’re tied to gambling activity, and the trend seems to be welcome back promotions that have tier/comp dollar multipliers. For instance, Caesars is promising those when properties reopen, and a few of them have already announced when theirs will be.
Expect Some Problems
Most casinos reopening are doing so with at least six weeks of closures preceding it, an unprecedented situation. Getting everything set back up and flowing as normal with hundreds or thousands of customers on site is going to be a challenge. Players going the first week of any casino reopening should expect hiccups and issues, just like the first week of any new property opening.
Reports abound of ATMs and ticket machines running out of cash, not enough staff for certain services like the cashier desk, issues around keeping the machines clean, and so on have been seen in a variety of casinos that have reopened. Some players are not wearing masks in casinos where they’re mandatory has also been reported.
The reality is the staff is likely stretched thin and getting back into the swing of things, and when things go wrong the problems can quickly cascade. Don’t take it out on the staff – they’re doing their best – but don’t hesitate to report the issues you found to the casinos so they can be aware of areas that need focus to get back to normal.
Make the Decision That’s Best for You
There’s a lot of debate about whether things are opening too quickly or too slowly. The most important thing is to make the right decision for you. If you feel like you are comfortable in the environment described above, the casino is waiting for you! And if you don’t feel like you’re ready yet, that’s fine too.
A casino is not an essential business like a grocery store, and is a form of entertainment, so an individual has a lot more discretion to determine if it’s the right time for them to go. It’s harder to make that same calculus for a grocery store when you need eggs or milk.
I’ve seen people debating this vigorously in forums, from whether they want to attend a casino with plexiglass on tables or be forced to wear a mask while on site. These are all personal decisions once a casino is open for business.
The good news is each casino has been publishing very detailed information about their COVID-19 plans, so you as a customer can determine if what they’re doing is at a level you’re comfortable.