Maryland casinos remain open during coronavirus pandemic; intrepid gamblers arrive with sanitizer, wipes

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State regulators have asked each of the casinos in the state "to provide guidance to us on their plans for social distancing and other preventative measures to limit the spread of the virus,” said Gordon Medenica, the state’s Lottery and Gaming director. “They are developing and implementing best practices together as a group and in conjunction with their corporate headquarters. The situation continues to evolve and our requirements will change as conditions demand,” Medenica said.

Maryland’s casinos remained open Friday and intrepid customers continued to venture inside as the state sought assurances that the large gathering places — in which gamblers often sit shoulder to shoulder — were taking measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

There was some confusion over the procedures under which a casino might close its doors.

A memorandum from Maryland Live Casino & Hotel management to employees on Friday said the Anne Arundel County casino is “in fact, required under Maryland regulations to continue to operate the casino 24/7 unless specifically instructed otherwise by State regulators.”

The casino quickly deleted the language after being questioned by a reporter, leaving only the preceding sentence reading: “We are continuing to operate, while following official guidance from the relevant officials of the State of Maryland and the federal government.”

Maryland’s six casinos — private businesses regulated by the state — are given discretion in emergencies about remaining open, so long as they consult with the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

"The casinos can choose to close under their own volition in emergencies and will notify the MLGCA so that we can coordinate efforts together," an agency spokesperson said.

The six casinos collectively employ thousands of people. In some games — such as blackjack and poker — gamblers and dealers huddle in small spaces.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced players to calculate their risks.

“I am staying clear from all casinos until this blows over,” Jake Rosenberg, a Washington-area blackjack and poker player, said Friday. “Honestly can’t think of a worse place to go during a pandemic with all the chips and people from all over congregating. I know a lot of my poker friends that play for a living are continuing to play, but I will not be doing so.”

Other gamblers — some armed with hand sanitizers and wipes — continued to partake.

Bob Peacock, 74, and his wife, Patty, 71, of Annapolis arrived at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore on Thursday to play on a $5 slot machine. They positioned a bottle of Germ-X sanitizing gel nearby and regularly wiped down the machine’s lever and buttons.

“You’ve got to live your life,” she said. “We’re elderly but our health is pretty good. We can take the time to take precautions.”

She said her husband, who was stationed on a nuclear submarine with the Navy during the 1960s, is “high-risk, high reward.”

And he said: “You’re in a casino so you know we like to gamble.”

State regulators have asked each of the casinos in the state "to provide guidance to us on their plans for social distancing and other preventative measures to limit the spread of the virus,” said Gordon Medenica, the state’s Lottery and Gaming director.

“They are developing and implementing best practices together as a group and in conjunction with their corporate headquarters. The situation continues to evolve and our requirements will change as conditions demand,” Medenica said.

The casinos remained open as schools closed around the state and the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the NCAA basketball tournaments and other large events shut down.

In its question-and-answer memo to employees obtained by the Baltimore Sun, the Live casino said it would pay “100% of your reportable wage, including tips” to employees unable to work because they were diagnosed with COVID-19. Citing federal health officials’ recommendations, it said staff was not permitted to wear face masks to work but that gloves might be worn on a case-to-case basis.

Live also said it was taking “numerous extra measures to clean and sanitize surfaces throughout the property, including slots, tables and poker chips.” It said it was providing mandatory extra training to staff and postponing programs — including a show featuring comedian Adam Sandler next week — with groups of 250 or more.

The other casinos, including Horseshoe Baltimore, were taking similar preventative steps.

MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, the state’s largest casino, said it postponed all events in its theater through the end of March and “significantly elevated our cleaning protocols, increasing the frequency of our disinfecting procedures,” among other measures.

The state shares gambling revenue with the casinos. Last month, the six casinos generated $151.2 million, a 10.6% increase over the same month a year earlier.

The state collected $62.8 million, with most of it going to the Education Trust Fund.

https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-casinos-go-or-not-coronavirus-20200313-eclnxhwuhfh6bgw3evllvcd4fa-story.html