Illinois, Ohio Casinos to Close as the Two Midwestern States Fight the Spread of COVID-19

Posted on: March 13, 2020, 08:36h. 

Last updated on: March 16, 2020, 09:58h.

First, it was the sports world that felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Now, it’s the casinos’ turn in Illinois and Ohio.

Starting Sunday, the Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Ill., will be closed as part of the fight to contain the spread of the coronavirus in Illinois. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recommended residents avoid being in crowds of 250 or more people. (Image: Rivers Casino)

On Friday, casinos in Illinois received notice from the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) that they were to suspend operations for two weeks effective on Monday. That announcement came shortly after Rivers Casino in Des Plaines announced it would voluntarily shutter its Chicago-area venue for two weeks starting on Sunday.

Although there have been no known cases of COVID-19 at the property, we are suspending operations out of an abundance of caution and to promote the social distancing recommended by health officials,” the casino said in a statement.

Rivers Des Plaines, co-owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Rush Street Gaming, said it would continue paying employees through the 14-day shutdown. Earlier this week, the casino opened its sportsbook, the first in the Land of Lincoln.

The IGB’s notice came after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced earlier in the day he was ordering school closures through March 30. The state also urged residents to avoid any gathering of more than 250 people in the same location and to practice keeping a safe distance, a minimum of six feet, between themselves and those who may exhibit symptoms of the contagious virus.

“We’ve seen what happens in places that didn’t move with urgency,” Pritzker said in a news release. “I ask all of you not to hesitate to do the right thing for your family, your friends, and your community. One small step at a time, we will get through this together.”

Ohio Casinos Close to Adhere to Crowd Limit

In Ohio, the state’s casinos and racinos did not exactly get an order to close. But the state’s Casino Control Commission, which oversees the state’s four casinos, sent a request Friday evening that they abide by the directive issued by Gov. Mike DeWine to limit gatherings to 100 people or fewer because of the coronavirus.

“Each casino is to be in compliance with the directive by midnight,” the commission said in a statement. “In addition, properties must submit to the Commission their plans to maintain compliance.”

An hour after the order was made public, Hollywood Casino Columbus announced on Twitter it would close to abide by the order, and its sister casino in Toledo posted on its web site that it was temporarily closed. WLWT-TV reported that JACK Casino Cincinnati, owned by Hard Rock International, would also close in light of the coronavirus order, and the JACK Cleveland Casino announced late Friday night it would also shut down.

The state’s seven racinos operate under the oversight of the Ohio Lottery Commission. The lottery did post an order on its site mandating compliance to DeWine’s order, also by midnight. Among the first to announce their compliance were MGM Northfield Park near Cleveland and Miami Valley Gaming between Cincinnati and Dayton.

MGM Chief Operating Officer and President Bill Hornbuckle said Northfield Park’s closure would take effect at midnight.

“We will do all we can to mitigate the impact on our employees and partners,” he said. “We will monitor this rapidly changing situation and will keep everyone informed as decisions are made to reopen as soon as we are able.”

Horse Racing Continues Without Fans

As Ohio and Illinois casinos shut down, Pennsylvania-based Parx Racing announced it would shut down its live horse racing cards for two weeks in response to the state’s call to cancel or reschedule large events. The statement, though, did not mention the track’s casino.

Elsewhere across the country, though, race tracks made the decision to keep their meets open for betting, but without crowds in the grandstands in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That included Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds Race Course, and Turfway Park.

While some tracks even kept fans from gathering in simulcasting areas, Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., kept its adjacent casino open to the public.