The last state to close commercial casinos amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak just became the first to welcome players back, as casinos reopen in South Dakota and Idaho.
South Dakota held out on casino closures until March 23, when the Mayor of Deadwood – the state’s historic gambling hall industry and home to 11 casinos – penned a letter to operators urging them to shut down.
But with the federal government urging states to reopen non-essential businesses – despite pleas from public health officials who warn doing so will accelerate the spread of coronavirus – casinos in Deadwood resumed operations on May 7.
Six days earlier, the Coeur d’Alene Casino in Idaho became the first tribal casino to reopen, and four tribal casinos in Washington state plan to do the same as early as next week.
Meanwhile, the country’s casino capital of Nevada remains on coronavirus lockdown after shutting down on March 17, leaving the Silver State’s vital gambling industry in ruins as operators hemorrhaged cash over the last month.
South Dakota Casino Patronage Surges as Only Available Option
In an interview with CNBC.com, Caleb Arceneaux – chief executive officer of Liv Hospitality, which runs the Tin Lizzie Gaming Resort and Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort in Deadwood – reported strong numbers for reopening weekend as Casinos Reopen in South Dakota and Idaho:
“We were about 15% or 20% higher than a typical weekend business, which is significant.
Cabin fever’s real, and I think people wanted to get out and experience, you know, gaming again.”
We were about 15% or 20% higher than a typical weekend business, which is significant.
Cabin fever’s real, and I think people wanted to get out and experience, you know, gaming again.
According to Arceneaux, the company’s casino adjacent lodging is currently enjoying occupancy rates of 90 percent. He attributes the nearly full capacity to gamblers living in nearby states making the drive to Deadwood.
While the eventual impact on coronavirus transmission waits to be seen, the local economy is experiencing a badly needed resurgence.
Per data released by Mike Rodman – who serves as executive director of the Deadwood Gaming Association – gambling derived revenue plummeted by 20.14 percent in March compared to the same month last year. Specifically, slot machine revenue fell by 18.17 percent and table games suffered a 44.38 percent decline.
Speaking to the Rapid City Journal after the city’s reopening, Rodman expressed optimism that the worst is behind casino reliant cities like Deadwood:
“As the numbers reflect, Deadwood’s economy was on pace with last year until March 25 when our world changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and Deadwood shut down.
The loss in just gaming revenue for Deadwood’s gaming properties was over $1.5 million for the last seven days in March that we were closed.
There are people slowly coming back to the properties and dealing with the new policies and procedures for social distancing. People are just happy the properties reopened.”
As Rodman alluded to, Deadwood’s casinos are implementing strict six-foot social distancing requirements, while employees are wearing face masks and gloves.
Las Vegas Casinos Release Plans to Reopen, Wait for Governor Approval
Under the reopening plan put forth recently by Governor Steve Sisolak (D) of Nevada, casinos there won’t follow suit until “Phase 3 or 4” – but the state only entered Phase 1 last week.
Despite the lack of a firm timeline, however, major operators in Sin City are preparing their employees and patrons for the future.
In a plan released on May 11, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. – parent company of the Venetian and Palazzo casinos on The Strip – announced that all employees would be tested for the coronavirus before a reopening tentatively scheduled for next month.
MGM Resorts International recently revealed a staggered reopening schedule in which certain properties on The Strip may remain shuttered until the Fall of 2021.