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Casinos set to reopen in New York. What to know before you go

Joseph Spector
New York State Team
Tioga Downs Casino in the Southern Tier.

ALBANY - New York''s 13 private casinos and racetracks can reopen their doors starting Wednesday, ending a COVID-19 shutdown that started in March.

The decision announced last week is welcomed news to the thousands of workers who have been unemployed since the virus shuttered all non-essential businesses.

New York's slow reopening had allowed most industries to resume, except for large gatherings like casinos and amusement parks.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sept. 3 that casinos could start to reopen Wednesday with a variety of safety measures and limited capacity.

They also need to have enhanced air filtration systems.

Food and beverage service on the gaming floor will also be prohibited, as will live performances, which are largely banned statewide.

Not all the casinos and racinos are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

Some are, such as Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, Tioga Downs in the Southern Tier, Vernon Downs in central New York and Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Ontario County.

Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway is scheduled to open Sept. 21. Others haven't announced an opening date.

Del Lago in the Finger Lakes said it plans to open Wednesday, but had no immediate time. Rivers Casino in Schenectady doesn't have a reopening date yet.

Rivers "has been working hand-in-hand with the state to make all the changes necessary to reopen and we will meet, or exceed, all requirements to provide a safe and healthy entertainment environment,” Justin Moore, its general manager, said in a statement.

Tioga Downs, which before closing has a contingent of 600 employees, is attempting to bring back as many people as they can, some in alternative roles, such as sanitary watchdogs, customer service representatives, among other duties.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can hire as many people back,” said Jeffrey Gural, owner of Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.

When full operational, Tioga Downs has 893 slot machines. On Wednesday, Gural estimates about 350 will be available for play, with more to be put into service as plastic barriers between machines are installed.

Players will be temperature checked upon entering the premises, he said.

“We’re operating in a much safer environment,” Gural said.

Here's what to expect when you go, according to state guidance:

How will occupancy be handled

The workforce and the number of customers need to be limited to no more than 25% of the maximum occupancy.

Also, any gatherings in event spaces need to be kept to fewer than 50 people, which is the statewide restriction.

Native American casinos in New York previously reopened because of their sovereign status.

What about social distancing?

Six feet of space needs to be maintained between patrons.

For sports wagering counters at the four upstate casinos, distances of at least six feet need to be marked. There also needs to be a barrier between bettors and cashiers.

Slot machines can only be activated if they are at least six feet apart, or if there are physical barriers between them.

Similar requirements will be necessary for table games, such as poker and blackjack.

What about table games?

Tables have to be six feet apart, and gamblers at the same table need to be separated by physical barriers approved for use by the Gaming Commission.

Physical barriers must also be installed between dealers and patrons, even if social distancing can be maintained.

The commission, which regulates gambling in New York, has to approve each casino's individual plan for table games before they can proceed.

"Wherever possible, games must be reconfigured to minimize the number of times that patrons must touch cards (e.g., by using “face-up” dealing in blackjack), and must never permit patrons to touch another patron’s cards," the guidance says.

Do you have to wear a mask?

Masks are required at all times, except for age verification upon entrance or if eating at a restaurant.

Indoor and outdoor restaurants can open, but they have to follow the same set of guidelines for all eateries in New York. For example, New York City does not allow indoor dining.

What about the air ventilation?

The state required the systems to be updated and inspected before any casino could reopen.

The HVAC systems needed to meet "the highest rated filtration compatible with the currently installed filter rack and air handling systems, at a minimum MERV-13, or industry equivalent or greater," the state guidance said.