Atlantic City casinos are urgently asking New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) to ease restrictions on indoor conventions and dining. The nine gaming properties say it’s a critical step in their recovery and keeping people employed.
Murphy’s COVID-19 executive orders continue to limit indoor dining to 25 percent capacity. Conventions remain capped at 25 percent capacity of the venue’s fire code, or a maximum of 150 people.
Summer temps are long gone at the Jersey Shore, and November is typically a time when Atlantic City casinos rely on conventions and meetings to keep their properties busy.
This is our prime season for conventions and meetings,” Casino Association of New Jersey President Steve Callender told the Press of Atlantic City. “We need meetings and conventions, and an increase to 50 percent [for dining]. We feel pretty passionate that we can do this, and we can do this well.”
Callender is also the senior vice president of Caesars Entertainment’s eastern operations. In Atlantic City, the casino firm operates four gaming floors — Harrah’s, Caesars, Tropicana, and Bally’s. Caesars’ real estate investment trust, VICI Properties, is in the process of selling Bally’s to Twin River Holdings Worldwide.
Atlantic City’s nine casinos missed out on much of the summer months. Murphy ordered them shut in mid-March and kept them dark until the July 4 holiday weekend. Even once permitted to turn back on their slot machines, business was scant, as restrictions on indoor dining and the consumption of beverages on the casino floors remained unattractive to many would-be gamblers.
The gaming industry reported a $112 million operating loss in the second quarter of 2020. Data for the third quarter has not yet been released.
Brick-and-mortar gross gaming revenue (GGR) in September was down 15.1 percent to $190.5 million. Year to date, land-based casino win is more than $1 billion short of where the industry was at this time a year ago.
As of September, the casinos were employing 4,782 fewer people than they did in September of 2019. Borgata was responsible for the most layoffs, with 2,359 position cuts.
The Press’ David Danzis, who covers the gaming industry for the media outlet, reports that a contingent of elected officials, business execs, and union leaders approached Murphy following the groundbreaking of Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus in October. They reportedly asked the governor to ease limitations on conventions and indoor dining.
“Thus far, their requests have gone unanswered,” Danzis says.
Large indoor gatherings continue to remain prohibited in states across the country. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR) says conventions came to a grinding halt in the second quarter of 2020.
About 88 percent of events originally scheduled in the second quarter were canceled. The remaining 12 percent of events were postponed, and some of those events may eventually be canceled as well,” a CEIR note revealed.
“While many economic activities have recommenced, the exhibition industry largely remains closed. In the absence of a federally managed response to the health crisis, exhibitions are subject to a patchwork of state and local limits on the number of people allowed in group gatherings, or an outright prohibition against mass gatherings,” the organization concluded.