Long Lines at Reopened US Casinos Show Player Interest, Waits Could Be New Normal for Now

Posted on: May 27, 2020, 08:10h. 

Last updated on: May 27, 2020, 09:58h.

Many players are waiting in lines for up to an hour or more to get the chance to gamble at gaming properties after months of shuttering. Some queues number in the hundreds and are made worse by reduced capacity in properties, which are part of the effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Waiting Lines At Casinos New Normal
Visitors to California’s Viejas Casino stand close to one another while awaiting entry to the casino floor. (Image: News Break)

A sampling of eager gamblers shows some are driving long distances across many states to get access to casino floors, according to US news reports. What do the lines show about players?

Dr. Timothy Fong, a professor of psychiatry and co-director at UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, confirmed to Casino.org there is pent-up demand among those waiting in casino lines.

“But it’s pent-up demand for lots of things other than just gambling,” Fong explained. These include eating at restaurants, going to watch movies, and more basically, “returning to normal life,” he said.

People Take Part in Casino Activity

“I think when we see these lines for gambling — and we’re starting to see that — I don’t know we can say as of today that’s a sign of gambling disorder or gambling addiction — or just people wanting to get out and be part of it,” Fang said.

Some people in line at casinos recently told news media they were looking for a place to spend their time and energy, Fang recalled. Also, brick and mortar casinos are now part of routine life for many people, just like eating at restaurants, going to bars, or shopping in grocery stores, Fang said.

But he cautioned that emotional and physical stress, unemployment, depression, isolation, trauma, and grief are among the things “we have all experienced in the last … months” because of the pandemic. And isolation, among other recent experiences, can lead those with gambling disorders to have relapses, Fang cautioned.

He adds that health-care professionals do not know how many new cases of gambling disorder will develop because of the lockdown and isolation.

James P. Whelan, a psychology professor and director of the Psychological Services Center at the University of Memphis, further told Casino.org that, “For some time now, most people view gambling as an acceptable, if not preferred, form of recreation.

“It is not surprising that, after months of not being able to engage in recreation, that the chance to visit the casino draws a lot of interest,” Whelan said. “I would guess a very similar pattern is happening as other recreational options become open again.”

Casino Lines Do Not Mean Gambling Problems

“I think it would be wrong to draw a specific link between lines forming and people having a gambling problem,” Whelan advised. “Certainly, the return of legalized gambling will impact those casino patrons with a history of gambling problems. It is likely, however, that many with a gambling problem moved to other forms of gambling — e.g., online casinos.”

Whelan also dislikes using such terms as “pent-up demand” to describe people eager to gamble as casinos reopen. “The temporary closing of casinos very likely increased the reward value of gambling, particularly when compared to other options, such as watching streaming services or walking around your neighborhood,” Whelan said.

I am not surprised that the crowd formed for the initial opening,” Whelan added. “Data from other parts of the world suggest that people are not traveling beyond driving distance to gamble.”

When asked if lines for casinos will be the new normal, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows gambling trends, told Casino.org, “Most casinos will have 50 percent capacity limits, so people will have to wait in line to enter the casino.”

Looking ahead, casinos will continue to limit capacity due to health risks, McGowan added. “If patrons don’t feel safe in a casino, then they will not come,” he said, adding that once gamblers begin to think less about coronavirus, they will probably demand that venue capacity is increased.

“Now, you might think that gamblers are bigger risk-takers. So, they might want to take a bigger [health] risk, but I doubt public officials feel that way. I doubt they would want to take that risk, so the casinos will have no choice but to enforce the limited capacity.”

The wait, for most people, will not take the pleasure out of gambling, McGowan said. “In fact, while you are waiting, the dreams of hitting it big would grow. That would make it worth the wait.”

From his outlook, Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, told Casino.org, “In the short term, you are likely to see lines at casinos that cater to local clientele because of pent-up demand and reduced capacity.

“The real test will come as more casinos open, and the industry establishes a safety record,” Cabot added. “In places like Nevada, when and whether the casinos can then increase capacity restrictions will be decided by the governor and gaming regulators. As many Vegas companies are not opening all their casinos, the addition of capacity can occur by opening additional casinos, as opposed to relaxing capacity restrictions.”

Nevada casinos are likely to begin reopening on June 4. Many casinos elsewhere in the US opened in May, or plan to do so in June.

Some Gamblers Drive for Hours to Visit Casinos

Just how far will people drive to gamble? Though many of those now lining up to gamble come from the local region, the Wall Street Journal recently reported how one woman, Shirley Martinez, 45, drove two hours from her home in Houston to Lake Charles, Louisiana, with her sister and 85-year-old mother for a casino reopening.

In Deadwood, South Dakota, Mayor David Ruth, a table games manager at a local hotel and casino, has even seen visitors driving from New York, Florida, Texas, and even New Mexico, the Journal reported.

Meanwhile, at California’s Viejas Casino, one woman in line told KFMB-TV in San Diego she brought her mom to the casino just to get her out of the house. “It’s boring being at home. I’ve been home a long time,” the woman said.

And in Arizona, the waiting crowd cheered as people entered the newly reopened Harrah’s Ak-Chin casino, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

At various locations, some in line chose not to wear face masks, avoiding a recommended way to help prevent COVID-19 spread. Some casinos offer the waiting players bottles of water, given the high outside temperatures.

Given that some casinos are reducing hours so they have more time to clean and sanitize, a few players, such as in Oklahoma, have found the wait so long, not everyone in line was able to get inside the casino before the venue shuttered for the day.

Still, some casinos have shorter lines or virtually no wait, depending on the crowd inside.