Gamblers in Massachusetts will not be allowed to play poker, roulette, or craps when casinos reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Plexiglass partitions will separate guests and employees wherever they are in close quarters. And masks will be essential for anyone moving around the gaming floor.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Tuesday approved a set of minimum standards that Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park must follow whenever Governor Charlie Baker’s administration determines that it is safe for them to welcome back gamblers.
The guidelines were the product of weeks of discussion among the casinos and the regulatory body, which spent hours considering details as granular as the dimensions of the dividers between slot machines and the conditions under which gamblers could lower their masks to have a drink.
Speaking Monday, gaming commission chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein urged the casinos to prepare visitors for an experience that will not be the same as before the health crisis closed down the industry in mid-March.
“Every patron who comes in the door will understand … that this is an exciting opportunity to re-engage, but it’s under very different conditions because we are in a pandemic,” she said.
And she noted that the picture could still change before casinos can reopen in Massachusetts. The Baker administration will give the final word on when and under what conditions casinos will be able to open their doors.
Under Baker’s plan for reviving the economy, casinos won’t be allowed to open before July 6.
The commission laid out the requirements to help give casino operators a bit of a running start as that date approaches, helping them get ready to train staff and acquire the materials they’ll need to meet the standards.
Each of the state’s casinos had previously laid out its own safety plan. They include many of the safety measures reflected in the gaming commission’s document.
Operators are eager to restart as soon as it’s deemed safe, given that they’ve endured months without revenue, leading to mass layoffs and furloughs of casino workers. All casinos have made staff cuts, with only Encore in Everett keeping a substantial portion of its workforce on the payroll.
Meanwhile, their competitors in Rhode Island and Connecticut are already up and running.
There were a few aspects of the regulators’ plan that raised concerns among the casino operators. Some worried about the rules around drink service on the slot machine floor. Players will not be able to carry drinks around, and will be allowed to consume them only as they play, a requirement intended to encourage mask-wearing in common areas. Some in the industry worried that will be hard to enforce and might frustrate customers.
The rules governing use of slot machines also sparked extensive discussion. Operating machines will have to be at least 6 feet apart, unless there’s a plexiglass partition between them that’s at least 6 feet high. In that case, the machines could be 4 feet apart.
Casino officials said plexiglass may be difficult to obtain in that size in the time before reopening. A representative for MGM Springfield noted that such a move might not be economical.
In a statement, Encore said, " We appreciate and support the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s directives, and we now need to evaluate how they impact our business.”
The commission will not require casinos to check guests’ temperatures — though Encore and Plainridge said they would do so anyway.
Andy Rosen can be reached at email@example.com.