New York Casinos Remain Closed as Gov. Cuomo Says They’re Not Essential

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By Steve Bittenbender

As New York continues its strong comeback from the COVID-19 crisis, not all businesses have been able to reopen and start on the road to recovery. Among those are the state’s commercially licensed casinos that employ thousands.

Earlier this month, six of the 12 commercial casinos filed WARN notices with the state’s Department of Labor indicating that more than 5,300 workers have been furloughed because of the closure. In its notification, Saratoga Casino Holdings said it expects its 401 affected workers are likely to be out for more than six months.

While all 12 of the state’s commercial casinos have yet to reopen, 12 of the 13 sovereign tribal casinos have reopened, according to the American Gaming Association’s Casino Tracker. Nationwide, 843 of the country’s 990 tribal and commercial casinos have reopened.

The state is one of the last holdouts on reopening gaming venues. Earlier this week, Michigan announced its commercially licensed casinos would reopen in Detroit next week, but at just 15 percent capacity.

New York has run counter to most states during the COVID-19 pandemic. It, along with neighboring New Jersey, was hit hard during the early stages of the emergency, leading to thousands of deaths. But as the deaths and caseloads subsided in New York, the crisis has grown grew elsewhere, typically after those states reopened large segments of their businesses.

As part of its reopening plan, New York chose to open in phases, with large venues like shopping malls held back until the final stage, which is where all the state’s regions are currently. Those malls, which still remain closed in New York City, can only open with a limited capacity and as long as they have a ventilation system that meets a specific rating.

Cuomo: Gaming Not Essential

When asked why casinos couldn’t reopen under the same set of guidelines as shopping malls, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave a direct answer on Thursday.

“It’s an issue of density, the likelihood of compliance, and the essential nature of the business,” Cuomo said.

State officials in determining which businesses would be able to reopen established criteria based on how essential they are and whether they’d contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

A shopping center, people need food, people need clothes, people need home goods,” Cuomo said. “You don’t need a casino to maintain survival.”

Casinos aren’t alone in remaining closed. Movie theaters and gyms have also yet to reopen their doors.

Cuomo Silent on Expanded Gaming

Cuomo has not been a fan of expanded gaming in New York, and his decision to keep casinos closed for now, even as the virus has subsided in the state, likely means he will not push state lawmakers to pass a bill to increasing gaming options and generate more revenue.

And Cuomo isn’t typically shy about pushing his agenda publicly. He has remained silent in recent weeks on the topic of expanded sports betting, even as some lawmakers have explored the possibility. In the past, Cuomo has said mobile gaming would need to be approved by a referendum.

However, some communities count on the tax dollars their local casinos generate and they face the same budget crunches as the state.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the state is looking at a $30 billion fiscal hole over the next budget years, and that figure does not count the budget deficits local governments face. Rather than seek out new sources, through revenue generation or tax increases, the governor is calling for Washington to help state and local governments.