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Masks on, buffets off as Illinois gambling regulators set guidelines for casinos to reopen

Casinos must provide free personal protective equipment and daily health screenings to employees, post signage reminding gamblers about social distancing and “proper hand washing,” and regularly disinfect all gaming equipment including dice, chips, cards and roulette wheels. 

Dealer Gary Reed looks on as Tilak Fernando and Dred Phillips play roulette at Bellagio Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip last week after the property opened for the first time since being closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dealer Gary Reed looks on as Tilak Fernando and Dred Phillips play roulette at Bellagio Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip last week after the property opened for the first time since being closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Gamblers might be allowed back around the craps tables at Illinois casinos this summer for their shot at rolling a lucky seven — as long as they stay six feet apart.

But blowing on the dice for good luck? No dice, in the age of COVID-19.

And forget the buffet line.

A week after casinos beckoned gamblers back through their doors on the Las Vegas strip — and a week before they do likewise across the border in Indiana — Illinois gambling regulators issued a set of guidelines Tuesday for casinos to resume operations after the coronavirus forced them to fold for nearly three months and counting.

The Illinois Gaming Board’s plan doesn’t say exactly when the state’s 10 casinos will get the green light. Instead, each has to submit a plan outlining how operators will deep-clean their facilities, outfit employees with protective equipment and keep gamblers safely distanced, among other hurdles to get regulatory approval to reopen.

But a few customary industry perks are off the board from the get-go, per the Gaming Board.

Those include buffets, table game tournaments, valet parking, poker rooms and any “promotions that require patrons to cluster and/or that cannot be conducted in compliance with current 6 foot social distancing requirements.”

Illinois’ guidelines mirror many of those set in Nevada, the international gambling capital that welcomed gamblers back at 12:01 a.m. June 4 after its own unprecedented coronavirus shutdown. Gaming interests are scrutinizing the Sin City reopening as a key barometer of how comfortable people in the coronavirus era will be about returning to an industry built on big crowds and high-touch surfaces.

Guests play craps June 4 on a table with plexiglass safety shields at Bellagio Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip after the property opened for the first time since being closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus.
Guests play craps June 4 on a table with plexiglass safety shields at Bellagio Resort & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip after the property opened for the first time since being closed on March 17 because of the coronavirus.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Like Las Vegas — as well as Indiana, where regulators announced this week the state’s 13 casinos can reopen at 6 a.m. June 15 — Illinois casinos will be capped at 50% capacity, though that’s subject to change “depending on public health conditions at any time,” the Gaming Board said.

Casinos must provide free personal protective equipment and daily health screenings to employees, post signage reminding gamblers about social distancing and “proper hand washing,” and regularly disinfect all gaming equipment including dice, chips, cards and roulette wheels.

All gamblers and employees are required to “have some type of face covering.”

Social distancing markers surround a craps table at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Monday.
Social distancing markers surround a craps table at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Monday.
Gene J. Puskar/AP file.

“The IGB is committed to the safe, fair, deliberate, consistent, and regulatory compliant resumption of casino gambling,” Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter said in a memo to casino operators. “The timing and conditions for such a resumption will be based upon public health guidance and metrics, and will proceed within the framework of Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.”

Illinois Casino Gaming Association executive director Tom Swoik said he’s hopeful it’ll happen June 26. The state is on pace to advance then to Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan, which would allow for gatherings of up to 50 people.

Casinos lost more than $100 million in the first month after Pritzker shut down gaming operations in the state March 16, leaving more than 5,000 people out of work.

“Our public health officials are talking to casino owners and other experts to try to figure out how you could do it,” Pritzker said at a Friday news conference. “We’ve heard a lot about this out of Las Vegas, of course. But, look: the goal here is to get everybody back to work, but to do it safely.”

The Gaming Board issued similar reopening guidelines for video gaming operators to eventually turn 36,000-plus slots back on at thousands of establishments across the state. First they’ll need to set up physical partitions between the video gambling machines, or space them out, among other precautions.

Hand sanitizer and a card explaining there will be no smoking or eating at gaming tables await the return of gamblers at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Monday.
Hand sanitizer and a card explaining there will be no smoking or eating at gaming tables await the return of gamblers at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on Monday, the day before the casino was scheduled to re-open.
Gene J. Puskar/AP file

The reopening guidelines are the latest sign Pritzker’s administration is looking to jumpstart gaming revenue after the coronavirus shutdown blasted an estimated $2.7 billion hole in the state budget. Last week, the Democratic governor issued an executive order allowing sports bettors to register for online betting accounts from home instead of in casinos, meaning they’ll be able to put money down quicker once online betting is live.

The Gaming Board is scheduled to hold its first meeting in four months on Thursday.