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Players Must Feel ‘Safe’ on Gaming Floors as Massachusetts Casinos Start to Reopen, Expert Warns

When Massachusetts’ three gaming properties resume operations later this July after months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the venues must provide players and other guests a climate in which they feel safe, according to a New England professor who specializes in the gaming sector.

Massachusetts casinos reopen
Cathy Judd-Stein (as seen in 2019), chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, has prioritized safety as the state’s casinos begin to reopen. (Image: Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

“The biggest issue is that patrons need to feel safe,” the Rev. Richard McGowan, a professor of finance at Boston College, told “So spacing is going to be very important.”

As a result, crowd size will be limited, and social distancing will be in place. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has outlined a variety of planned safety protocols for the casinos, such as restricting the crowd to 25 percent of the capacity previously mandated by fire and building officials.

The number of slot machines and table games available to players will also be restricted, McGowan explained. That will ensure appropriate distancing among players and workers.

The MGC has announced several other guidelines when casinos reopen. There will be no playing of poker, craps, or roulette. Players also will see plexiglass dividers at blackjack tables.

The MGC is working to ensure a safe and sustainable reopening, issuing guidelines … that will no doubt shift to reflect the changing public health data over time,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein announced in a June 23 statement.

“We are confident that our three licensees will work in good faith to implement and enforce these measures.”

Encore Boston Harbor Likely to Resume Operations Next Sunday

Encore Boston Harbor is scheduled to reopen next Sunday (July 12) if the date and reopening plan are given final approval by the MGC. When players enter the Everett gaming property, they will see a variety of health safeguards in place.

Guests and workers alike must wear masks. Those players who do not have facial coverings will be given a complimentary one by casino staff.

Before anyone can walk into the casino, staff will also take players’ and workers’ temperatures with a non-invasive thermal scan. No guest or employee with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be permitted into the complex.

There will be many hand sanitizer stations and hand wipes available for guests. Encore Boston Harbor workers will also enhance the cleaning and disinfection of public areas in the gaming property.

MGM Springfield is scheduled to resume operations on July 13, a day after the Encore Boston Harbor reopens. Next weekend, MGM Springfield plans to have a soft reopening, presumably providing limited options to some guests.

The reopening plan and date at MGM Springfield will need final approval by the MGC before operations resume. As envisioned, MGM Springfield will require distances of six feet between people on the casino floor unless players and workers are separated by plexiglass dividers. That means many slot machines will be turned off to maintain social distancing.

Chris Kelley, president of the Northeast Group at MGM Resorts, was quoted by MassLive, a regional online news site, “When we reopen our doors, we do so with the health and safety of our guests and employees as our number one priority.”

Plainridge Park Casino Scheduled to Reopen Wednesday

The first Massachusetts casino to reopen is Plainridge Park, located in Plainville. Plainridge is currently scheduled to reopen on Wednesday (July 8), pending final regulatory approval by the MGC.

Safeguards, like the ones at Encore or MGM Springfield, will be in effect at Plainridge Park, too.

Based on last week’s decision by the MGC, the three casinos could have reopened as soon as Monday (July 5). But the casinos apparently needed more time to prepare given the safety requirements and other reopening efforts.

One of the MGC’s new requirements for each of the three casinos that has gotten the most attention is that players on the gaming floor will be prohibited from carrying a drink with them from one location to another. Issues were raised last month at the MGC meeting that such a protocol could be hard to enforce.

When discussing the issue in June, several MGC commissioners warned if guests walked throughout the gaming floor carrying a drink, that would lead to a setting which would resemble a bar. Massachusetts bars cannot reopen until Phase Four of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening schedule for the state’s businesses.

Phase Four has yet to start. Phase Three kicks off Monday (July 5.)

Also, last month one gaming commissioner, Enrique Zuniga, cautioned that given the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, casino workers and officers need to continue to use methods to diffuse situations when casinos reopen.

“That’s why it’s very important to remember that usually it is much, much better to diffuse a situation, deescalate, like I know our people often do,” Zuniga added at a June MGC meeting.

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