CLEVELAND, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday gave Ohio’s multibillion dollar casino and racino industry the go ahead to reopen in two weeks after more than three months of closings over coronavirus safety concerns.
Ohio’s four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, and seven racinos scattered across the state closed March 14 after being ordered to limit attendance to a combined total of 100 guests and employees at a time. Since then restrictions were placed on gatherings of more than 10 people.
With no money coming in, the industry that was off to a record start for the year had fallen by the end of last month nearly $400 million behind 2019 for gambling revenue. This is the money “won” by the facilities after paying at winnings, a third of which is then sent to the state in the form of taxes or fees.
Revenue through May stood at $410.8 million, down from $809.5 million for the first five months of 2019.
The busiest of the facilities in Ohio is MGM Northfield Park, located between Cleveland and Akron. Slots revenue there is $55.1 million for the year, down from $106.5 million through May 2019.
JACK Thistledown Racino dropped from $58.5 million to $29.9 million for the first five months of the year, and JACK Cleveland Casino dropped from $87.4 million to $44.6 million.
Outside of the slots areas at the racinos, the state last month approve resumption of horse racing, though without spectators. Wagers may be placed via the internet or through simulcasting to tracks elsewhere.
Ohio’s seven racinos, regulated by the Ohio Lottery Commission, are limited to chance-based slots machines. The casinos have both slots and table games, under regulation by the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
A working group that came up with proposals for new safety rules included industry officials, heads of the Casino Control and Lottery commissions, and health officials, said Jessica Franks, spokeswoman for the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
Among the rules provided by the governor’s office on Friday: employees must stay 6 feet apart unless a barrier is used. And employees are to wear facial coverings with the exception of special circumstances that must be explained to health officials when requested.
As for patrons, the facilities must “allow and encourage guests to wear face coverings to help limit the spread of the virus.”
Also, signs will be posted telling guests that by entering the gambling halls they are affirming that they don’t have COVID-19, and in the last 14 days haven’t had COVID-19 symptoms (unless attributed to another condition) and haven’t come in contact with anyone suspected of having COVID-19.
The gaming floors could be quite different than how they looked previous to the coronavirus crisis. For example, some slot machines may closed to create spacing between customers and there may not be as many seats at gaming tables.
Danielle Frizzi-Babb, spokeswoman for the Ohio Lottery Commission, said that as of Friday all seven racinos had plans to reopen on June 19 with the new protocols in place.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the four casinos would reopen the same day, or would need more time to prepare. But JACK Entertainment said its downtown Cleveland casino and Thistledown Racino would reopen June 19.
“To ensure a safe space for those who come to work and play we will be instituting new practices in compliance with public health orders and recommendations as well as additional safety protocols determined essential by our company,” Chad Barnhill, chief operating officer for JACK Entertainment, said in a statement. “We will be releasing more details on our reopening plans in the coming weeks.”
A message left for comment with MGM Northfield Park was not returned Friday afternoon.
Rich Exner, data analysis editor for cleveland.com, writes about numbers on a variety of topics. Follow on Twitter @RichExner. Follow casino coverage at cleveland.com/casino.
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