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All bets are off: Illinois casinos ordered to shut down due to coronavirus

Gov. J.B. Pritzker previously urged establishments to call off gatherings of 250 people or more.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Ill.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Illinois casino industry is the latest casualty of the coronavirus.

Gambling regulators on Friday ordered all 10 casinos across the state to suspend operations for two weeks beginning Monday, joining a slew of other corporations and organizations that have been forced to a grinding halt to help stop the viral outbreak.

“The public health of patrons, casino employees, IGB staff, and others is of paramount importance,” the Illinois Gaming Board said in a statement. “The Board is continuously monitoring developments and will update licensees and the public as frequently as possible.

Illinois casinos are among the first in the nation forced to temporarily fold in the face of the global pandemic.

Rivers Casino, the most lucrative in Illinois, announced its Des Plaines location would begin its hiatus Sunday.

“Although there have been no known cases of COVID-19 at the property, we are suspending operations out of an abundance of caution and to promote the social distancing recommended by health officials,” the casino said in a statement.

The closures deal a blow to a nearly $1.4 billion Illinois casino industry that has suffered steadily declining returns. Rivers is the only casino in the state that has seen consistent revenue growth over the last decade.

Rivers executives said they decided to close the casino after Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday called on establishments statewide to cancel gatherings of 250 people or more. Employees will still be paid during the hiatus, according to the casino.

Rivers reported nearly 3 million admissions last year, or about 8,000 visits per day, state records show. More than 10.5 million casino admissions were made statewide last year, or nearly 29,000 visits per day.

“The health and well-being of our team members, guests and the Chicagoland community is our highest priority. We are grateful for their continued support,” Rivers executives said. “We will continue to closely monitor the ever-changing information related to the coronavirus outbreak.”

Before the shutdown mandate, the casinos had kept gaming floors open while advertising increased cleaning rotations.

In his order, Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter said he would later “review the situation to decide whether an extension of the period of suspension is warranted.”

News of the shutdown — effective midnight Monday, or after 11:59 p.m. Sunday — came just four days after Rivers opened the first legal sportsbook in Illinois history.

Since then, officials have announced 46 people have tested positive for COVID-19 across Illinois, mostly in Chicago and its Cook County suburbs.

Legislators and fans alike had clamored for the new industry to roll out in time for March Madness, but the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been canceled along with most other American sports, leaving only obscure international contests on the board.