Encouraging signals from the Big Apple suggest that the nightmare of the past few months could soon be consigned to the history books at last. The successful role out of vaccinations among the adult population has led Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce that the last restrictions can be lifted in most public settings and life can return to a cautious approximation of normality.
The news has been welcomed especially warmly by those connected to New York’s casinos, whether as customers, employees, or operators. Upstate, the Rivers Casino Schenectady has been among the first to announce a move back to operating at 100% capacity. Customers will be delighted to see that the plexiglass barriers have been removed from the table games and slot machines. Masks, meanwhile, are no longer required for guests and employees if they are fully vaccinated.
In New York City, Resorts World is expected to follow suit imminently. The casino resumed full operating hours in April but has still been operating subject to restrictions in terms of capacity, distancing rules, and the range of games available to players.
An evolving industry
Casinos are operating in a rapidly changing environment, and the events of 2020 could not have come at a worse time. On one hand, this is a period of opportunity. Changing attitudes towards gambling have prompted many states to relax their gambling laws, driven in part by the Supreme Court decision in 2018 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Strangely, the pandemic has helped promote this cause, as the tax revenue generated by legalized gambling presents an extra incentive that is hard to ignore when states face budget deficits running into the tens of millions.
On the other hand, long before any of these factors came into play, land-based casinos were facing increased competition from online alternatives. When a casino operates in cyberspace, its overheads are a fraction of those a physical casino faces. They are also unconstrained by the available space on the gaming floor. The result is that an online provider can provide a wider choice of games and can still be profitable at far lower margins, giving it the scope to offer far more generous promotions, giveaways, and bonuses. And all this comes with the convenience of being able to play from your armchair at home.
Against that backdrop, it becomes clear that land-based casinos only hold one trump card, but it is powerful. For the majority of players, getting the best deal or beating the house is not the primary objective. People go to a casino for entertainment, and like any night out, they accept that it will cost them money. The outside chance of winning is simply an added incentive to give it a try, but it is seldom the main driver.
In other words, it’s really all about the experience. The sights, sounds, and smells of the casino, the atmosphere, the bustle, and the excitement as the croupier sets the roulette wheel in motion. That’s where the land-based casinos can still outperform their online counterparts. It also, however, emphasizes why lifting the restrictions is of such critical importance.
Casinos were only closed for relatively brief periods during the crisis, but reopening in such a restricted fashion almost did more harm than good. The reason for the restrictions was understood and accepted, but it didn’t alter the fact that playing casino games in a half-empty setting with gaming tables closed and masked-up players unable to mingle simply wasn’t fun. In fact, people reasoned that they might as well stay home and play online, and that’s exactly what many chose to do.
New York leading the way
Governor Cuomo is justifiably proud of the lead role New York has taken in getting its people inoculated since the vaccine’s global rollout. He hailed New York’s program of vaccinations an unprecedented success and confirmed that by mid-June, more than 70 percent of adult New Yorkers had received at least one dose.
He told reporters: “What New York has done is extraordinary. Not only do we have the lowest COVID positivity rate in the United States of America, but we have also hit 70% vaccination ahead of schedule. We successfully deployed the weapon that will win the war, and New York led the nation.”
It’s more than just political hyperbole. In mid-June, New York had administered more than 20 million doses of the vaccine, significantly more on a per capita basis than any other large US state.
The Governor offered his congratulations to the people of New York, saying: “they are the ones who did it,” and he predicted that the state’s residents and businesses could now look forward to better times ahead.
Full details on the new guidelines can be found at New York Forward, and are well worth reading. There, you will find detailed information, recommendations, and regulations in relation to social gatherings, disinfection, health screening, contact tracing, and plenty more. But the short story is that most of these now fall into the category of recommendations and are optional in almost all commercial settings.
For now, those who have not received the vaccine are still required to wear masks and some restrictions remain in very specific settings including public transport, correctional facilities, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and most health care settings.