Atlantic City Casinos Ask Governor to Relax Convention, Indoor Dining Restrictions

New Jersey lawmakers, Atlantic City officials, and casino industry executives have asked Governor Phil Murphy to relax some of the restrictions on indoor gatherings so that meeting, conventions, and trade shows can again be held in the city.

The city’s casinos and other non-essential businesses were shuttered in mid-March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus and were allowed to resume operations in early July.

After a four-month closure and with the heavy restrictions on indoor gatherings, Atlantic City’s casino resorts have been burning through cash since their reopening.

It should also be noted that the properties also annually host big conventions and trade shows as well as various meetings. Among the nine operational casinos and other big event facilities such as the Atlantic City Convention Center and the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel, the city offers more than 1.8 million square feet of meeting space across 315 rooms.

However, none of these have been used since the coronavirus swept into our lives this past spring. In November alone, two big annual conventions that usually attract thousands of delegates will be held online. Without the New Jersey Education Association and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities conventions, Atlantic City and New Jersey as a whole will lose millions of dollars.

Industry Asks Governor to Ease Restrictions

Steve Callender, President of New Jersey’s Casino Association and regional president for Caesars Entertainment Inc., which currently operates four of Atlantic City’s nine casinos, told Gov. Murphy that the industry needs help.

Mr. Callender noted that fall is usually their prime season for meetings and conventions and that without those, the industry would suffer another big hit, even more jobs would need to be cut, and economic recovery would take much longer.

The Casino Association President further noted that they need to be permitted to resume holding meetings and conventions and that indoor dining capacity should be increased to 50%. Mr. Callender said that the city’s nine casinos are prepared to host larger gatherings in full compliance with the state’s public health and social measures and “can do this well.”

Mark Giannantonio, President and CEO of Resorts Casino Hotel, said that the casino industry “has developed the most stringent health and safety protocols” and that they have “successfully and safely welcomed back indoor dining, and now is the time to begin to safely welcome back the convention and meeting business.”

Several state lawmakers have also asked Gov. Murphy to consider easing some of the restrictions. Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato wrote to the state’s top official in September that without meetings and conventions “the negative economic impact to both large and small businesses, including lost wages, will be devastating to the market and residents of Atlantic City and Atlantic County.”

Bob McDevitt, President of UNITE HERE Local 54, the labor union that represented over 10,000 casino workers before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, said that only about 70% of the union’s members have retaken their jobs since Atlantic City’s nine casinos resumed operations in July. According to Mr. McDevitt, if meetings and conventions resume, another 5% would be able to return to work.

The labor union’s President said he was confident the industry could handle responsibly and successfully increased indoor capacities.

Soaring Cases Could Lead to Further Restrictions

While the industry is asking for permission to hold meetings and conventions and for increased dining capacities, a recent surge in new Covid-19 cases around the state could result in more restrictions to be implemented.

Gov. Murphy even suggested Friday that indoor dining in the state might be shut down completely if cases continue to increase.

However, more restrictions and the traditionally slow winter and early spring business could be devastating to Atlantic City’s casino industry, executives warn. As mentioned above, the city’s nine casinos lost millions of dollars during the four-month shutdown and have been recording revenue drops every month since their reopening in July.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Atlantic City’s casino industry had just begun recovering from a nightmare first half of the decade that saw four of its casinos close doors. Executives certainly fear that more and prolonged restrictions could eventually result in a new wave of permanent closures.

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