Most businesses in central New York and the Finger Lakes region have been allowed to open after the COVID-19 shutdown. But del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County is still awaiting authorization to resume operations.
Select businesses, namely casinos, haven't received clearance to reopen. The state's four commercial casinos, including del Lago, have been closed since March 16.
It's unknown when del Lago will be allowed to reopen. Lance Young, the casino's executive vice president and general manager, told The Citizen Thursday that while there has been communication with state officials, there has been "nothing definitive" in terms of a reopening date.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his administration was "still looking at the data," but casinos would remain closed.
As it would for any business, the four-month shutdown has adversely impacted del Lago. There's no gaming revenue coming in and the casino's 1,100 workers, who were paid for the first few weeks of the shutdown, have been furloughed since April 8. This week, the casino sent Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notices to its employees notifying them of potential layoffs if there's a longer shutdown due to COVID-19.
Young, who praised Cuomo for his handling of the public health crisis, said the casino, like the state, is watching the data.
"We look forward to getting open, but understand why we're not yet," he said.
The effect of del Lago's temporary closure extends beyond its property in the town of Tyre.
Jeff Shipley, president and CEO of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, noted that a portion of the casino's gaming tax payments to the state is shared with six counties in the Finger Lakes region. According to the state Gaming Commission, the six counties — Broome, Chemung, Seneca, Schuyler, Tompkins and Wayne — received a combined $9.1 million in gaming tax revenue from del Lago in the 2019-20 fiscal year. Seneca County's share includes the payments the town of Tyre receives as a host municipality.
The lack of gaming tax revenue also affects school districts. A bulk of the casino's gaming tax payments — $36.4 million in the 2020 fiscal year — are for education aid and property tax relief.
Seneca County Manager Mitch Rowe told The Citizen in May that the county expects at least a $1 million loss in gaming revenue due to del Lago being closed. The shutdown is also affecting sales tax revenue, which took a major hit with the closure of so many businesses for much of the spring.
With del Lago being closed, Shipley said it's impacting the tourism industry in the county and the Finger Lakes region.
"It serves as a catalyst, really, for regional exposure," he said.
Even though there's no timetable for when the casino can reopen, del Lago has developed a plan named "Extra Care." Following federal and state guidelines, as well as what casinos have done in other parts of the country, Young aid they developed a plan that includes best practices to protect employees and guests.
The plan includes limited capacity for the casino floor, social distancing in the slot machine area and at table games, limited capacity in restaurants and personal protective equipment for employees. Workers will be screened at the employee entrance. Guests will be screened, too.
One possible requirement is for casinos to have heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that can filter out COVID-19 particles. That was a mandate for malls before they could reopen in New York.
Because del Lago is a new facility — it opened in 2017 — Young said the air filtration system already meets the standard set by the state for malls.
Not all casinos are closed in New York. Native American-run casinos, such as the Oneida-owned Point Place, Turning Stone and Yellow Brick Road casinos in central New York, have been open since June. The tribal casinos closed voluntarily because of COVID-19 concerns. The state doesn't have the authority to force the closure of the Native American casinos.
With the Native American casinos open, it puts del Lago at a competitive disadvantage. Young expressed disappointment that Oneidas and others can operate their casinos, but he again praised the Cuomo administration for their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shipley argued that there wouldn't be a higher risk of going to del Lago than visiting a Native American casino. He thinks it presents an "unequal playing field" for del Lago. But del Lago is focused on preparations for when it will be allowed to reopen.
"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."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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