New York casinos allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that privately-owned casinos and video lottery terminal facilities in New York will be allowed to reopen starting September 9 with a 25 percent occupancy limit.

The reopening decision will apply to all racetrack casinos as well as the state's four full-fledged, privately run casinos: Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, del Lago in Seneca County, Rivers Casino in Schenectady and Tioga Downs in Tioga County.

Native American-run casinos, which are not constrained to the state's COVID-19 shutdowns, have already been open in New York for months after temporarily shutting down in March, April and May, when the coronavirus was at its peak in New York.

That includes the Seneca Nation's casinos in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as the Oneida Indian Nation's Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, Oneida County.

All privately run venues that choose to reopen will be subject to strict safety protocols, the governor said, including strict enforcement of face coverings except when eating or drinking, social distancing, additional staff to control occupancy, traffic flow, and seating to avoid crowding, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols. Casinos must also have enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards in place in order to open.

"New Yorkers have done an extraordinary job - we flattened the curve in a way that no expert thought was possible," Governor Cuomo said. "We've made the determination that we can safely reopen casinos with enhanced air filtration and strict safety protocols including mandatory masks and social distancing. This is good news and the right next step in our data-driven, phased reopening which is working."

Casinos must leave six feet of distance between operating machines, and no table games will be allowed unless and until casinos put in place physical barriers between players and the Gaming Commission approves those barriers. No beverage or food service will be allowed on the gaming floor.

Genting, which operates Resorts World Catskills and the massive Resorts World racetrack casino in Queens, plans to open its doors on Wednesday.

Meghan Taylor, Genting's vice president of government affairs, said guests will have their temperature checked upon entering the casino.

There will be at least 200 hand sanitizer stations throughout Resorts World Catskills, which does not recirculate air and has an air filtration system that exceeds the state standards, she said.

"We have implemented a plan to seamlessly integrate the unmatched experiences in excitement, entertainment and luxury that guests have come to expect, with the more stringent health protocols that are needed to operate safely," Bob DeSalvio, president of Genting Americas East, said in a statement.

Some of Resorts World Catskills' amenities, such as valet parking and its bus system, will not be open at first, Taylor said.

The other three private, full-fledged casinos had not yet announced a reopening date as of Thursday afternoon.

A spokesman for Tioga Downs said the casino was waiting for the state's official guidance documents to be released before declaring an opening day. As of 2:40 p.m. Thursday, those documents — which will lay out the exact requirements casinos have to comply with — had not yet been made public.

Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady will announce a reopening date soon, according to the casino.

“The Rivers team has been working hand-in-hand with the state to make all the changes necessary to reopen and we will meet, or exceed, all requirements to provide a safe and healthy entertainment environment,” Rivers General Manager Justin Moore said in a statement.

Yonkers’ Empire City Casino, one of the state’s largest gambling facilities, said it is excited about the reopening of their facilities.

“We are awaiting specific guidelines from the state but are very excited to be able to start to welcome back our employees and guests in a safe and healthy manner,” a company spokeswoman said.

Empire City hopes to open in September, keeping in mind the time it will take to recall its workforce and get them trained. When employees are recalled to work, they will maintain their seniority and their benefits will begin immediately, with no waiting period. 

Empire City had furloughed more than 900 employees as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in New York.

The State Gaming Commission will be deployed to monitor casinos and ensure strict enforcement of these measures.