Casinos cleared to reopen in Phase 3

Coronavirus Local Impact

BOSTON (SHNS) – The state’s slots parlor and two resort casinos, shuttered since March 15, were cleared Thursday to reopen as soon as Monday, though officials said it is unlikely that gambling will resume right away.

Gov. Charlie Baker gave the green light for Phase 3 of the state’s reopening — which includes casinos, gyms, museums and movie theaters — to begin Monday. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the casinos are authorized to reopen as of Monday, but that she expects them to take at least a week to train employees before gaming begins.

“The Gaming Commission voted and approved a set of protocols that are pretty significant in terms of the requirements, and the operators of the casinos agreed to those provisions and will be opening under those safety protocols, eligible to open on Monday,” Polito said. “I think that they will begin to activate their workforce, train them to those protocols, and then invite the public in about a week’s period of time after that.”

Encore Boston Harbor announced shortly after the governor’s press conference Thursday that it expects to reopen its $2.6 billion Everett casino at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 12.

The state’s three casino gambling facilities won’t necessarily all open at the same time, either. Gaming Commission Interim Executive Director Karen Wells said during a meeting Thursday morning that she expects the three licensees will take “a staggered approach” to reopening.

The commission approved its guidelines for casino reopenings last week, setting out a series of restrictions meant to keep workers and players safe — no poker, craps or roulette until further notice, blackjack-style gaming tables will be capped at three players and will include plexiglass barriers, and players must wear something to cover their nose and mouth upon entry and while in the gaming area, except to have a drink.

“Every patron who comes in the door will understand, because of the communications plans, that this is an exciting opportunity to re-engage but it’s under very different conditions because we are in a pandemic,” Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said last week, referring to the public communications plans each facility is required to develop ahead of reopening. “Things are going to be different.”

At its meeting Thursday, the Gaming Commission approved its minimum standards for the return of horse racing at Plainridge Park Racecourse and simulcast wagering at Plainridge Park, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park.

Spectator-free horse racing will soon be underway in Plainville, first with qualifying races likely to be held next week and official races starting the following week. Under the commission’s guidelines, only people directly involved in racing (trainers, grooms and others, but no horse owners) will be allowed at the track, everyone arriving at the track will have their temperature checked, a mask or face covering will be required for everyone, and the lounge for sulky drivers will be closed.

“We have several racetracks that are now racing under some similar protocols,” Christopher McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming, said last month when the commission and track operators reviewed the guidance. He added, “The main basics really come down to the social distancing, face masks, temperature checks and limiting the number of individuals in there in the respective areas.”

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