BOSTON — There is no timeline for when Massachusetts casinos might be able to reopen, but state regulators are starting to look into how gambling facilities in Macau, China, got back up and running after having closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Massachusetts casinos have been closed since March 15 and will remain shuttered until at least May 4. During Thursday's Gaming Commission meeting, Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said there is no concrete timeline for reopening but the commission is beginning to think about it.
"We are fully engaged with our licensees in preparation for a new normal and the myriad of considerations for a safe and sustainable reopening," she said. "What we do know for sure is it won't be as simple as unlocking the doors and switching the lights back on."
She said it is helpful that two of the three gambling operators in the state, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts, shut down and then restarted their casino operations in Macau. Interim Executive Director Karen Wells said the commission has a team that will meet Friday to look at lessons learned from Macau.
"We've got a team and actually we have a meeting set up for tomorrow for a group to be looking at what are the lessons learned in Macau? Because they did close operations, they did reopen. What worked? What didn't work? We'll be working on that as well," she said.
After shutting down for two weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic there, Macau casinos began to reopen in late February under tight restrictions. Only half of each casino's table are allowed to be open, all gamblers must wear masks and have their body temperature taken when entering a casino, and casino employees must also attest that they are healthy before reporting to work.
Judd-Stein also said the commission has drawn insights from a document Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox prepared for properties elsewhere, detailing proposed policies around disinfecting surfaces, protective gear for employees and guests, and limiting casino capacity.
"Whatever the plans are, they will require robust public education campaigns for customers and employees," Judd-Stein said. "Right now though, the focus remains on staying home to stop the spread and flatten the curve. But as we think about looking towards the next phase, whatever that may be, there will be no shortage of logistics to consider."
Casinos don't typically close and reopen — take Foxwoods as an example; the Connecticut casino planned to close at 2 a.m. after its grand opening in 1992 but instead remained open every minute of every day until last month — but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission can lean on two senior employees who have first-hand experience rebooting casinos.
"Opening casinos is an extensive regulatory process. Fortunately for us, our gaming agent management — (Investigations and Enforcement Bureau Assistant Director) Bruce Band and (Gaming Agents Division Assistant Chief) Burke Cain — is experienced in this area because they were involved in the reopening of the casinos in Atlantic City after Hurricane Sandy," Wells said.
As that storm pummeled New Jersey, the casinos in Atlantic City were shut down for five days. Wells said Band and Cain's experiences will help address one half of the issue, how the commission can ensure the integrity of the games and operations when gambling resumes.
The other half of the issue, Wells said, is how casinos can address concerns specific to COVID-19. On that front, she said, the commission will be in close contact with public health experts and government officials.
Before they closed on March 15, the state's casinos and slots parlor collected roughly $35 million in gross gaming revenue, generating just under $10 million in tax revenue for the state. Since all three facilities will be closed for all of April, the state will see no tax revenue from gaming, further compounding an already nightmarish revenue picture for state budget managers. Typically, gaming revenue brings in at least $20 million for the state each month.