Atlantic City casinos returned to full seating capacity at poker tables and other gambling stations on Friday. The move came as New Jersey further relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. With the return to full seating, the city’s poker rooms may be the busiest they’ve been since the pandemic-induced shutdowns occurred in March 2020.
Full capacity at the tables is just one of several changes being allowed under New Jersey’s latest guidelines. Atlantic City’s poker rooms will be allowed to remove the plexiglass dividers between each seat, and players who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to play without masks. No protocols for checking an individual’s vaccination status have been announced, inferring that an “honor system” regarding vaccinations and mask-wearing will be in place.
The relaxed protocols went into effect at 6am on Friday as infectivity rates declined across New Jersey, with more than 48% of the population now reported as being fully vaccinated.
Atlantic City poker rooms lagged behind slow recovery
The updated protocols as announced by the office of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy promise a much needed boost for the region’s economy during the busy summer months. In 2020, Atlantic City casinos were completely closed during the Memorial Day period; after being mandated to close in March, they were not allowed to open until July.
Live poker took even longer to return. The first Atlantic City poker room to reopen was its largest, the 77-table room at the Borgata, and that didn’t occur until October 2020. When it did, the room initially offered only cash-game action and a maximum of seven players per table.
Similar restrictions hampered all gambling activity at all of the Atlantic City’s casinos. Overall, New Jersey’s gross gaming revenue dropped by more than 80% in 2020, even though the state’s online-gambling sites enjoyed traffic surges during the worst of the pandemic’s larger impact.
Indoor protocol relaxation key to casinos’ hopes
Caesars Entertainment’s Noel Stevenson told the Press of Atlantic City that the relaxation of indoor restrictions were key to the venues’ recovery. New Jersey removed most outdoor restrictions one week ago, but the greater risk of indoor virus transmission made the state wait a little longer to make its move.
“Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Tropicana are pleased to see the return of indoor events, entertainment, meetings and conventions and more of the amenities our guests expect from our resorts,” Stevenson told the Press. “Gov. Murphy’s most recent order allows us to take a needed step forward in our recovery effort. It will enable us to fully reopen this summer, just in time for Atlantic City’s peak season.”