For four New York commercial casinos in the midst of a 4 1/2-month shutdown due to COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn't deliver good news on Thursday.
During a call with reporters, Cuomo explained the state's decision to keep the four facilities — del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County, Resorts World Catskills, Rivers Casino in Schenectady and Tioga Downs Casino Resort — closed. There has been no timetable for the casinos to reopen.
"It's an issue of density, the likelihood of compliance and the essential nature of the business," Cuomo said.
Cuomo ordered casinos to close on March 16 as the number of COVID-19 cases soared in New York. Before the shutdown, casinos implemented policies — capacity limits and reducing the number of slot machines and table games — but it wasn't enough.
The temporary closures are affecting employees — nearly 1,100 employees at del Lago have been furloughed and could be laid off if the shutdown continues for an extended period — and local governments. Between Seneca County and the town of Tyre, del Lago's closure could lead to at least $2 million in lost gaming tax revenue this year. That doesn't include any lost sales tax revenue, and losses at other local businesses that benefit when the casino is open.
The casinos are at a disadvantage because Native American-owned casinos have been open for nearly two months. The Oneida Indian Nation reopened its Point Place, Turning Stone and Yellow Brick Road casinos in June. There are strict guidelines in place and two employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but there hasn't been any outbreaks reported since the casinos reopened.
Lance Young, the executive vice president and general manager of del Lago Resort & Casino, told The Citizen two weeks ago that the casino has developed a reopening plan. The plan, named Extra Care, is based on federal and state guidelines. Capacity will be limited on the casino floor and adjustments will be made to allow for social distancing at slot machines and table games.
Employees and guests will be screened before entering the casino. Workers will be issued personal protective equipment, including masks.
"We're ready to reopen when the data and science says that we can and we'll continue to work with state officials," Young said. "Hopefully we'll be open soon."
But Cuomo's comments suggest that the casinos won't be reopening anytime soon. While malls and shopping centers have been allowed to open, he argued that's because "people need food, people need clothes, people need home goods."
"You don't need a casino to maintain survival," he said.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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