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State casinos agree to temporary closures

Casinos in Massachusetts said they would close during the coronavirus outbreak.
Casinos in Massachusetts said they would close during the coronavirus outbreak.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

In a rare Saturday morning session, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission agreed to temporarily close the state’s three casinos amid the coronavirus crisis.

Gaming floors would close just before 6 a.m. Sunday with entire facilities to follow suit by midnight.

“We sincerely regret the impact this will have on our employees, their families, and the community, but their health and safety is our number one concern,” MGM Chief Operating Officer and President Bill Hornbuckle said.

Snags and details would be worked out along the way and there would be another weekend meeting to further discuss the “operational status” of Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park, the commission said.

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The closures would last for at least two weeks in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Because this is an emergency situation, my expectation is a lot of the details we are going to have to work through,” said interim Executive Director Karen Wells.

Casinos in other states have been closing and scaling back programming as society largely shuts down in an attempt to contain the virus. Rhode Island said it would close its two casinos for a week starting Saturday.

“We believe it is prudent at this time to pause our operations and put the safety of our guests and employees first,” said Brian Gullbrants, president of Encore Boston Harbor.

The company would pay its full-time employees during the two-week closure, Gullbrants said.

Plainridge Park Casino also would pay its nearly 400 employees for the 16-day period, its president said.

“This is a challenging time for all of us,” said Jay Snowden, president and CEO of Penn National Gaming, in an emailed statement. “We look forward to reopening our doors just as soon as possible.”

The meeting follows Governor Charlie Baker’s Friday afternoon order banning public gatherings of 250 or more people as the state attempts to contain the illness. That order had left the door open for the casinos’ gambling floors to remain open ― though it did not allow the facilities to hold large conferences, concerts, or other events in individual rooms.

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One high-profile coronavirus case emerged Thursday, when the commission and Encore disclosed that a person who visited the Everett resort March 5 later tested positive for Covid-19. A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed that person was Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell.

Both the casino and the commission said they have consulted state public health authorities, who advised them that the visitor was not symptomatic at the time and that there was little risk to the public. The commission said he interacted with seven people, who had been identified and alerted.

The casinos have said they were aggressively cleaning, sanitizing, and wiping down surfaces. They have instructed employees to stay home when sick, they said, and have cancelled large events. Encore has been taking the temperature of guests who showed respiratory symptoms, and closed its buffet and nightclub.



Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez. Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @andyrosen.