Arkansas, Illinois Extend Pandemic Casino Closures Through April

Posted on: March 31, 2020, 11:57h. 

Last updated on: April 1, 2020, 10:00h.

Casinos in Arkansas and Illinois have received word they will be closed for at least one more month because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Saracen Annex in Hot Springs, Ark., is one of three casinos that will continue to stay closed after the state extended its order through April 30. (Image: Saracen Casino Resort)

On Monday, Dr. Nate Smith, the Arkansas Secretary of Health, announced that the initial two-week closure order he delivered on March 16 would be extended. That came after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered recommendations on controlling the spread of the virus.

Based on available scientific evidence, it is necessary and appropriate to take further action to ensure that COVID-19 remains controlled and that residents and visitors in Arkansas remain safe,” the order read.

The order applies to Oaklawn Racing and Gaming in Hot Springs, Southland Casino Racing in West Memphis, and the Saracen Annex Casino in Pine Bluff. The annex is a 300-machine venue across from where the Quapaw Nation is building its $350 million Saracen Casino Resort that’s slated to open later this year.

When Smith gave his first closure order, Quapaw Nation Chairman John Berrey said construction would continue as crews would adhere to CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

And while Oaklawn’s casino will remain closed, the thoroughbred track is scheduled to continue its meet on Thursday.

Second Extension Announced in Illinois

The Illinois Gaming Board made its announcement on Tuesday, the same day that President Trump’s task force spelled out its rationale for extending the social distancing recommendations. Those include avoiding gatherings in groups of 10 or more and reducing discretionary travel as much as possible.

The order applies to the 10 state-licensed casinos.

Tuesday’s order marks the second time the closure order has been extended. The initial order, announced on March 13 and effective on March 16 set the closure period through March 30. On March 20, the IGB extended the order to April 8. In addition to the casinos, the IGB also suspended the operation of all state-licensed video gaming terminals as well through the end of April.

In its statement, the board said it will continue to stay apprised of developments regarding the coronavirus pandemic and use “science, public health guidance, and applicable law and rules,” to render its decisions.

“The health and safety of patrons, gaming industry employees, Gaming Board staff, and all others in Illinois is the Gaming Board’s top priority,” the IGB statement said.

Relief Available for Gaming Companies in CARES Act

While the closures are certain to be a blow to the gaming industry, the American Gaming Association (AGA) noted there are provisions in the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that will help the gaming industry survive.

That includes drawing from a $454 billion loan pool to help companies across various industries.

Other tax relief in the law includes being able to immediately write-off building improvement costs instead of depreciating those costs over a 39-year period. Companies that also retain employees during the closure period qualify for a tax credit of up to $10,000 per employee. Businesses also can defer their portion of Social Security tax payments for the rest of 2020 and instead pay half of that total next year and the remainder in 2022.