Atlantic City Casinos to Extend Capacity to 50% as New Jersey COVID-19 Measures Ease

  • Limits will ease from 35% to 50% on March 19 for casinos and some other businesses
  • Gov. Murphy pointed to a drop in coronavirus hospitalization figures to explain the decision
  • Casinos in New Jersey have struggled throughout the pandemic; state GGR fell 17% in 2020
  • New York City is working with New Jersey to ease capacity limits but hasn’t mentioned casinos
Atlantic City boardwalk at night
Atlantic City casinos can ease capacity restrictions from 35% to 50% on March 19 following an announcement by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy this week. [Image:]

Some relief for casinos

Casinos in New Jersey and its gambling capital Atlantic City are set to ease capacity restrictions following an announcement by Governor Phil Murphy.

will take effect starting March 19 at 6am

On Wednesday, the governor outlined plans for an increase in capacity limitations from 35% to 50%. The easing of restrictions will take effect starting March 19 at 6am and will also apply to gyms, personal care services, and amusement venues. Governor Murphy took to Twitter to announce the news:

New Jersey’s current 35% limit has been in place since February of this year. Providing his reasons for easing the restrictions, Murphy admitted that new variants of the virus have caused some concern. However, he noted a drop in daily virus hospitalizations of around 1,000 since last month.

Difficult recovery conditions

This easing of restrictions will come as music to the ears of Atlantic City’s casino owners, who have struggled since forced closures last March. When casinos eventually reopened in July, a 25% capacity restriction marred recovery efforts. New restrictions in November also established a 10pm curfew for food and drink service.

traditional table and slot games in Atlantic City’s nine casinos generated revenue of $1.5bn

As a result, New Jersey’s overall gross gaming revenue (GGR) fell by 17% year-on-year in 2020 to a total of $2.88bn. Traditional table and slot games in Atlantic City’s nine casinos generated revenue of $1.5bn for the year, a drop of 44% from 2019 levels. Because of significant losses, MGM Resorts laid off 2,295 employees of Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in September.

Many land-based casinos with an online segment turned to iGaming and online sports betting in an attempt to counter losses. Without the contribution of such revenue streams, New Jersey’s GGR would have been significantly worse last year. Online slot machines and table games saw revenue double year-on-year in 2020, while the state accepted more than $6bn online sports wagers, 92% of which were online.

New York City to ease next?

As part of his announcement on Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy confirmed that New Jersey and New York City are working to ease restrictions together. Murphy said both areas are seeing “improving metrics” as a result of vaccination programs. At the moment, however, New York City has only committed to the easing of indoor dining capacity on March 19.

Gov. Cuomo publicized New York City’s loosening restrictions on Twitter Wednesday, so far excluding any reference to casinos:

Similar to those in Atlantic City, New York City’s casinos have also struggled with capacity limitations set at 25% upon reopening in September. As a result, New York’s four upstate casinos ended 2020 with a substantial 58% drop in gross gaming revenue year-on-year, with a total of $259.8m.

Faced with a substantial state budget deficit, Gov. Cuomo announced support for a legal mobile sports betting market at the beginning of the year. Two New York lawmakers proposed an online sports wagering bill in January which would introduce a competitive market. Cuomo, though, has repeatedly made clear his desire for state-run sports betting. The legislation is currently still under consideration.

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