Are Washington Casinos Closing Again

Bob Roberts
• Thursday, 03 December, 2020
• 17 min read

Debates raged over the relative prioritization of public health and the financial well-being of businesses. Commercial casinos began to follow suit not long thereafter, starting with those in Deadwood, SD.


This time, states are acting more independently, not in unison, and the shutdowns are shorter. Here we will be providing information as it comes in, on at least a weekly basis and more frequently during periods of high activity.

For casinos, this means operating at 25%capacity, respecting an 11 PM curfew and following all the same regulations as bars and restaurants. As of this writing, however, the Illinois Gaming Board is still instructing casinos in all three regions to follow Tier 2 protocols.

With the opening of Lady Luck Semicolon on Friday, Pennsylvania’s casino industry is fully back in business. Iowa extended its emergency policies, including a mask mandate in casinos, to at least February 6.

California’s tribal casinos are mostly open, though its card rooms remain closed. Havana Landing reopened on New Year’s Day, leaving only two tribal properties closed in the northern part of the state.

Around the country, many other smaller tribal properties have also resumed business, bringing the total number of casinos closed down to less than 100. Those reopening included Wyoming’s Little Wind Casino, currently the only one in the state that is open.

Fears of a surge in cases due to holiday travel haven’t yet materialized, as the nationwide infection rate has held roughly steady over the past month. Colorado's counties moved back to the Orange tier on Monday, making a shutdown of its commercial casinos less likely.

On the other hand, Nevada authorities have advised those who attended the many large New Year’s celebrations in Las Vegas to assume that they’ve been exposed. We may see cases there surge in coming days, though the resistance to another casino shutdown is strong.

Not much has changed during the holiday season, except that Detroit’s commercial casinos reopened: Greek town on Christmas Eve, and MGM Grand and Majority the day before. Most of Michigan’s tribal casinos have followed suit, with the two Bay Mills properties the only ones to keep their doors shut.

Most states are anticipating a further spike in COVID-19 cases due to holiday travel, which could result in additional closures after New Year. Arizona seems to be on track for a second shutdown shortly into the New Year, based on the guidelines of its own Department of Health Services.

In Connecticut, Mohegan Sun has allowed officials to set up a drive-through COVID-19 testing location on its property. Rivers Philadelphia was already closed as of November 20, but a dozen other properties had been open for business until now.

Rhode Island also extended its emergency declaration and casino closure for one additional week, until at least December 21. Nevada has had a similar capacity restriction in effect since November 24, and yesterday extended that until January 15 at the earliest.

The latter include Havana Landing in California, Ute Mountain in Colorado, and the three Arizona properties owned and operated by the Pascal Yaqui Tribe. It will take a long time before enough people have received it for herd immunity to kick in, but we may see the spread begin to slow within a few months.

Today was initially supposed to be the day that the three commercial casinos in Detroit could reopen. Given that the holiday season presents additional risks of its own due to family gatherings, we can probably expect that this will be extended again until after New Year.

These were originally set to expire December 10, and don’t mandate compliance from casinos though many have voluntarily limited their hours in response. Andrew Cuomo warned that a total shutdown was looking likely due to strain on the hospitals.

North Carolina may announce some new restrictions of its own later today, though its casinos are tribal properties and won’t be affected directly. Four of the five are expected to meet the threshold for additional restrictions within a matter of days, the exception being the Bay Area.

Card rooms and satellite wagering facilities are on the list of businesses that will be forced to close in affected regions. This is merely a strong recommendation and doesn’t carry legal penalties, though it is accompanied by a state-wide mask mandate and prohibition on specific activities like winter sports competitions.

The initial order will expire next Tuesday, but the governor and health authorities are still debating whether to renew it or let it lapse. Furthermore, the Chinook Winds Casino Resort in Oregon shut down for two weeks of its own accord, starting December 2.

Depending on their efficacy, distribution and people’s willingness to receive them, these might slow things down enough to avert the need for more widespread shutdowns. The two Twin River casinos in Rhode Island shut down today, as scheduled.

However, this is also the same time period over which we’ll see the effects of Thanksgiving gatherings emerge, which makes it unlikely that the number of cases will drop. With Christmas then approaching shortly after, the smart money is on the closure being extended until after New Year.

In California, Los Angeles County card rooms, including Commerce Casino and Bicycle (aka “The Bike”) also shut down today. Jim Justice warned that some new restrictions could be coming on Wednesday, making that a state to watch.

Vital Vegas, which reports on casino industry gossip, also tweeted a rumor that a three-week shutdown is being discussed internally at Caesars : Little happened during the week, as legislators were reluctant to impose additional restrictions so close to Thanksgiving.

Pennsylvania was a small but significant exception, in that it ordered bars to close at 5 PM for one night only on Wednesday, anticipating a pre-Thanksgiving drinking binge that could have spread the disease. Unfortunately, holiday travel and family gatherings will almost certainly lead to an even sharper rise in cases over the next one to two weeks.

Its casinos are facing criticism for a lack of transparency around many dozens of employees testing positive for the disease since October. Nevada's casinos haven’t yet been forced to shut down, but they’ve been subjected to a new 25% capacity order.

Some are also taking voluntary additional steps, as much to save money as to stem the spread of COVID-19. Mandalay Bay and The Mirage have elected to limit their hotel operations to Friday, Saturday and Sunday, though their casino floors remain open throughout the week for now.

It’s estimated that they will lose at least $67 million even if they only remain closed for three weeks as originally planned. At the moment, only the Toronto and Peel regions are under lockdown, but some of the province’s other casinos have closed voluntarily.

Illinois executed its casino shutdown today, as the state moves back into Tier 3 restrictions. Some other forms of indoor recreation such as theaters and museums have also been forced to cease operations.

Casinos may be permitted to reopen after that time if cases and hospitalization rates decrease, but this is unlikely. These won’t affect the state’s many tribal casinos, unless they opt to comply voluntarily.

Its two casinos, owned by Balls (formerly Twin River) will be forced to shutter on November 30, along with colleges and universities, offices, bars, gyms and various other nonessential indoor businesses. There are roughly two dozen other casinos in the state, but they are tribal properties and therefore not subject to the Governor’s orders.

Six of these in the state’s Upper Peninsula (or panhandle) have followed suit of their own accord. J.B. Pritzker and the state’s Department of Public Health announced that it would be moving into Tier 3 restrictions.

Also on Friday, Rivers Philadelphia will shut down on orders from the city, though other Pennsylvania casinos will remain open for now. In Colorado, the Department of Public Health and Environment came close to ordering the outright closure of Cripple Creek casinos, but changed its mind at the last moment.

However, all commercial casinos in the state have been ordered to cease offering table games, rendering them slots-only. The information on this page combines data from the American Gaming Association’s (AGE) COVID-19 Casino Tracker with summarized news stories from around the web.

AGE’s data includes Class II tribal properties (i.e. bingo halls) but excludes some other types of gambling establishments like off-track betting parlors and California’s card rooms. For those most part, those remaining closed were small rest stop style casinos, bingo halls and the like.

The first indicator of a second, potentially nationwide shutdown was the closure of Detroit’s three commercial casinos on November 18. Scroll down or click your state in the list below for a synopsis of all the news we’ve found.

On December 3, Governor Kay Ivey affirmed that she has no plans to shut down any businesses, and tribal casinos would be beyond her jurisdiction in any event. Arizona has only tribal casinos, which will make their own decisions independent of the state.

There’s no word whether state authorities intend to take the advice, but if they did, it would have at least an indirect impact on the casinos. If current trends were to continue, and the state were to follow its own guidelines, a second shutdown would be coming shortly after New Year.

The two commercial casinos in Arkansas were among the first to reopen back in May, remain open, and show no indication of closing. The lone exception is Redwood Hotel Casino in Namath, which closed in March and never reopened.

Most of the state is in the “purple” tier, which means nonessential indoor businesses are closed, including card rooms. Among other things, these prohibit even outdoor play at card rooms in the county, which includes such iconic names as Commerce, Bicycle, Hollywood Park and The Gardens.

As of December 21, 55 of 58 counties are in the purple tier and 4 of 5 regions (all but Northern California) are under stay at home orders, which mandate a halt to even outdoor play at card rooms. This status changes on a continual basis, depending on the availability of ICU beds; any time a region drops below 15% available capacity, the stay at home order comes into effect for a minimum of 3 weeks.

Colorado’s commercial casinos are concentrated in three small towns designated for that purpose. Cripple Creek has been harder hit by COVID-19, and although its casinos were allowed to reopen, they could only offer slots.

Black Hawk and Central City, located close to one another just west of Denver, enjoyed slightly more relaxed restrictions for a time, and were able to offer table games as well. There are additionally two tribal casinos in the southwest corner of the state, which opened in August and September.

On January 4, Colorado counties that had been in the Red tier have moved back to Orange, meaning some limited indoor dining is possible again, and a shutdown of commercial casinos is less likely. We may see a repeat of that drama if the state asks them to shut down again, and they refuse to do so, but for now they remain open, albeit at 25% capacity.

Even if they do, state residents do have access to online casino gambling, also operating through the lottery. Photos of a packed food court at a Delaware mall on Black Friday sparked outrage, and have led the state to begin tightening regulations.

A stay-at-home advisory will be in place from December 14 to January 11, though this won’t specifically force any businesses to close. On January 8, capacity limits for all businesses between 5000 and 100,000 square feet (which includes the state’s casinos) were reduced to 30%.

The Seminole tribal casinos were among the few nationwide to resist the initial shutdown, though they complied eventually. The White House COVID-19 Task Force has pressed the state for tighter restrictions, but DeSantis is unswayed.

At the moment, all tribal casinos in the state are open and have not announced any plans to close again. The only gaming establishment that’s closed is the small collection of slot machines at Beneath Family Foods.

As of December 2, Ada, Elmore Valley and Boise counties are looking at increasing restrictions, including an expanded mask mandate, prohibition on most sporting events, and new rules for bars and restaurants. Four of the state’s ten casinos fall in these regions and can now reopen at 25% capacity and with an 11 PM curfew.

Indiana’s casino industry consists mostly of commercial establishments, with Four Winds South Bend as the sole tribal property. Starting November 15, however, it did introduce new restrictions, making masks mandatory for all guests and staff, and forbidding all food and drink on the casino floor.

However, as of November 17, the state has a limited mandatory mask policy anywhere indoors where social distancing is impossible. A bar owner has filed a class action lawsuit against the state for its restrictions.

These offer slots-like historical horse racing terminals, making them almost as good as real casinos. However, this is the subject of an ongoing legal battle and may lead to disruptions even if COVID-19 doesn’t force the venues to close first.

The state also has instant internet lottery games available as a reasonable and pandemic-proof alternative to casino gambling. On November 20, the state implemented certain measures like restricting gym capacities and limiting bars and restaurants to takeout or outdoor service only.

Andy Beshear has said he’s resistant to the idea of forcing any businesses to close outright. He stated in a press conference that he still intends to return to a more lax set of restrictions next week and doesn’t foresee closing bars and restaurants.

Additionally, the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles remains closed, not due to COVID-19, but rather because of damage it sustained during Hurricane Laura. At the moment, the local casino industry seems more concerned about the loss of revenue due to hurricane season than the virus.

However, they’ve seen among the biggest drops in revenue of any US gambling properties, which could call into question the profitability of remaining open if the situation continues to worsen. That possibility is looming larger than of November 24, when it came to light that several dozen casino employees have tested positive since early October.

Authorities haven’t made a shutdown announcement yet, but have called for greater transparency from the casinos when it comes to reporting cases. If they do close, there are no alternatives in the state, as it lacks both tribal casinos and online gambling.

Facing pressure from doctors who say the current response level is inadequate, on December 7, Gov. He did not elaborate on what those might be, but did move the state back to Phase 3, Step 1 of its reopening plan.

The state claims that this will only last for three weeks, but if COVID-19 rates keep increasing despite efforts at mitigation, they could easily be forced to remain closed much longer. However, the governor and her health officials haven’t yet decided whether this means the restrictions can be loosened.

When it does arrive, it will provide residents with a pandemic-proof option for casino gaming, as well as poker and sports betting. Minnesota has no commercial casinos, but a huge number of tribal gaming properties.

The state also has a pair of card rooms located at its racetracks, Canterbury Park and Running Aces. Those restrictions were originally set to expire on December 16, but were extended before eventually being loosened on January 6.

Indeed, the relatively simple measure of reinstating a mask mandate is proving contentious enough that the state is taking things county-by-county. However, the state has now run out of ICU beds entirely and the mayor of Wiggins has died of the disease, so pressure will continue to mount until the situation changes one way or another.

Parson was resistant to the idea of reimposing restrictions during a smaller spike in cases over the summer, so it’s unclear what his attitude will be now. The White House Task Force, however, has begun pressuring the state to take action, declaring its current precautions inadequate.

The rest are open, but without a single state or tribal authority governing them, may make independent decisions to close at any point. Most of these have a minimal online presence, making it difficult to check their status individually.

Ricketts has said that the state is approaching the need for new restrictions, such as further reducing the maximum size of social gatherings. This and other policies have managed to slow the acceleration of the disease, but the infection rate hasn’t yet started to come back down.

On the one hand, the size and number of the casinos makes the risk of super-spreader events very real. Some casinos have independently decided to keep their hotels open only certain days of the week due to lack of business, while what visitors have been coming have included a higher proportion than normal of unsavory characters, leading to an outbreak of violence on the Strip.

On the other hand, the state is so reliant on its entertainment and gambling industries that the thought of a second shutdown is extremely painful. There were then many large gatherings for New Year’s, and authorities have advised everyone who attended them to assume they’ve been exposed.

These are open, but under severe restrictions on capacity, food and drink service, hygiene protocols, and so forth. Most recently, new restrictions on indoor dining have caused the Borgia to lay off many employees and cut hours for others.

Phil Murphy has said that if the current trend of infections continues, a second full shutdown is probably coming. It has the best developed online gambling market in the US, in fact, and its gaming sites have been doing booming business since their retail competition first shut down.

The commercial casinos were closed for more than five months, only receiving permission to reopen in September. For now, they remain open, but those in New York City will be affected by a moratorium on indoor dining which began on December 14.

New York has taken a more targeted approach this time around, establishing micro-cluster focus zones in need of special attention. Caesars, which operates the two Hurrah’s properties on behalf of the Cherokee tribe, has not announced any plans to close the casinos again.

As of December 11, state residents are subject to a 10 PM curfew, which will indirectly affect the casinos. North Dakota has only tribal casinos, so the decision to stay open or close is not up to the state.

The exceptions are two casinos in the northern part of the state owned by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Part of the reason may be their proximity to the Canadian border, as restrictions on international travel will have killed any cross-border business they once received.

On January 15, the state relaxed some policies, including its mask mandate, which it allowed expiring. Ohio has only commercial casinos, which means it could go to full shutdown at any moment based on an order from the governor.

It’s not clear what this means for casinos specifically, but the plan seems to be to focus on changing individual behavior rather than imposing rules on businesses. Even so, he is facing calls for impeachment from members of his own party for going “too far” with what restrictions he has implemented.

Oklahoma has just two commercial racing, one of which opened in late June, the other in early September. Though Oklahoma has had one of the sharpest spikes in infection rates this fall, there’s been no talk from its government about a second shutdown.

Their decisions are made independently, so some may choose to close again of their own accord, even absent instructions from the state. Restaurants will be take-out only, retail businesses have their capacity limited, and parks and playgrounds are closed.

The Chinook Winds Casino Resort shut down on December 2 due to rising COVID-19 cases in the area, and will tentatively remain closed for two weeks. If people take the instructions to heart and end up staying at home more, the casinos may decide on a temporary shutdown of their own accord.

On the other hand, backlash is already underway, with one mayor openly urging local citizens and businesses to ignore the governor’s orders and treat their city as if it were one tier lower than it actually is. Rivers Casino was ordered to shut down by the city of Philadelphia, effective November 20.

The impending election may have had something to do with that, however, as remaining 12 casinos in the state were all ordered to suspend operations on December 12. Eleven casinos reopened that day, with the last, Lady Luck Semicolon, electing to stay closed until Friday, January 8.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania online casino industry is now thriving to nearly as great an extent as New Jersey’s. Rhode Island has just two casinos, both operated by the state lottery in partnership with the company formerly known as Twin River, which has just this month taken over the Bally’s brand and changed its own name to match.

Though she initially said she’s hesitant to move backwards on the state’s reopening plans, she has since warned that a full-state lockdown could be coming. Despite expectations that further extensions would be coming, however, she allowed the order to lapse on December 21, and both casinos reopened.

South Dakota’s commercial casinos are constrained to the tiny town of Deadwood. Kristi Noem declared lockdowns ‘useless,’ making it unlikely that Deadwood will be forced to shut down again.

The former, adjoining Nebraska, have remained closed since March, while those to the east, facing Minnesota, have reopened. These remained closed longer than most tribal casinos in other states, but have been open since the beginning of the fall.

Their construction will take long enough that COVID-19 may no longer be an issue by the time they’re completed. New restrictions as of November 16 will have the effect of limiting table capacities, and cold weather may make outdoor poker a less popular idea in any case.

His Attorney General, Patrick Morris, is even more resistant to anti-COVID measures and the two clashed over it on November 19. On the other hand, there are now two online casinos in WV, which wasn’t true back in the spring.

If the casinos did have to close their doors again, the consequences of the state’s revenues wouldn’t be quite as dire as they were the first time around. Two of the four casinos never reopened to begin with, and the other two, owned by Wind River, shut down temporarily on November 9.

They planned to reopen December 1, announced on Facebook the day before that the closure would be extended until further notice.

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