EDITORIAL: Time for casinos to reopen

Local governments, economy hurt by casino closures while other New York businesses are allowed to be open

While stores, restaurants and bars, malls and many other types of businesses have been allowed to reopen under New York’s strict coronavirus criteria, one major economic and tax engine for the area remains inexplicably closed.

The local casinos: Rivers in Schenectady and Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs.

While other casinos around the country and the region have reopened with few cases of covid transmission reported among staff and patrons, New York is unnecessarily forfeiting business and tax revenue by allowing its casinos to remain shuttered.

People who want to gamble are driving to Connecticut or New Jersey or Massachusetts or the Native American casinos in New York to do what they could be doing right here in their own communities —  spending money that could be going back into the local economy and helping support the operation of local and state government.

Schenectady, Schenectady County and Saratoga Springs desperately need all the help their budgets can get to fund basic services like police, fire and social services. Without additional revenue sources, the alternative is raising taxes on already overburdened taxpayers or cutting services.

Of course, at first, Rivers won’t be able to provide nearly the tax revenue it had been providing in the past. But any bit will help, and eventually the revenue and tax benefits will climb back.

In addition, the closures are preventing local casino employees from making a living. 

Casinos in other states have shown that by making major changes to the way they operate, they can ensure that their staff and customers are protected against the spread of the coronavirus.

In New Jersey, for instance, casinos are limited to no more than 25% of usual capacity. Casinos have installed plexiglass dividers between seats at card, craps and roulette tables, and slot machines are turned off at certain intervals to create distance between players. All patrons and staff have to wear masks at all times, and no smoking is permitted.

A spokesman for Rivers said Monday that the facility has developed a “comprehensive reopening plan that addresses crowd management, cleanliness and disinfection, air quality and circulation, monitoring, isolation, and social distancing,” but provided no details.

There’s no more reason for delay.

The state Health Department needs to evaluate the two casinos’ health plans and provide feedback so that they can make whatever changes are necessary to ensure a safe reopening.

Under strict conditions, other New York businesses have been allowed to reopen. Why not casinos?

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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