After being closed for more than five months, New York casinos will soon learn whether they will be allowed to reopen.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Sunday there will be an announcement this week about the reopening plans for casinos. The decision will impact the state's four commercial casinos, including del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County, and 11 racinos.
The gaming facilities have been closed since March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While other businesses have been allowed to reopen after the statewide shutdown, casinos are among the few that are still awaiting guidance on when they can resume operations.
Cuomo outlined the concerns with casinos, including the congregate nature of the facilities, the air filtration systems and how they would enforce social distancing. But he also acknowledged the frustration of casino employees who have been calling on the governor to allow them to return to work.
"I understand their point. I understand the economic reality," Cuomo said. "I understand the feeling that you see other things, other places opening up but you still can't get back to work."
Workers held rallies outside several casinos last week. A few dozen workers and supporters gathered outside of del Lago to urge Cuomo to reopen the casino.
Casino employees are facing economic uncertainty due to the continued shutdown. Del Lago paid its workers for the first few weeks, but then furloughed nearly 1,100 employees in early April.
If the casinos remain closed for an extended period, they will begin to lay off employees. Del Lago filed Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification documents in July to alert workers that layoffs may be possible if the casino remains closed for an extended period.
One factor that could push the state to reopen the casinos soon is that Native American-owned casinos reopened in June. The Oneida Nation reopened its three central New York casinos more than two months ago and there hasn't been an uptick in COVID-19 cases reported.
Valerie McIntyre, a table games supervisor at del Lago, believes that her casino and others could reopen safely and abide by the state guidelines.
"Governor Cuomo: If we are such New York tough, release our hands and allow us back to work," she said at a rally Thursday.
Casinos have developed plans for when the state allows them to reopen. Del Lago will screen employees and guests before they enter the casino, capacity on the gaming floor will be limited and some slot machines will be turned off to allow for social distancing.
If the state allows casinos to reopen, it's likely that there will be a mask mandate for employees and patrons — something that's already in del Lago's plan — and there will be certain cleaning and occupancy guidelines they must follow.
"We're trying to find a balance," Cuomo said. "I understand people's anger and frustration. I do. And I feel it also. I want people to be back at work. I want people to have the dignity of work and the security of work. I'd like to see the economy come back as fast as possible from the state's point of view."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.