As more public places in Massachusetts are allowed to reopen, casino operators are waiting to see how far regulators go in imposing limits on occupancy, proximity and the human touch.
There will be restrictions on how many people are allowed into gambling venues, and requests that patrons wear masks and observe social distancing. There might be more space between slot machines or clear partitions between each machine. But with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission considering banning poker, craps and roulette tables for now, and limits on the number of players at a table, regulators might be raising the stakes too high.
Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor closed March 15 because of the pandemic and are scheduled to be allowed to open this week, unless state officials push the date out further.
The gaming commission had hoped to agree on final rules two weeks ago, but pushback from the license holders forced reconsideration. There are many things to consider. Will there be Plexiglas shields at all gaming tables and limits on how many times a player can touch cards or chips? How will chips be sterilized and how often must a deck of cards be replaced?
The experience inside a casino has always been tactile, connecting with other humans enjoying something they find exciting. Putting Plexiglas barriers in too many places inside a gambling hall could be bad for business.
“Our licensees are saying to us that there is a potential that that is a game changer for them, to impose that requirement,” Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein told the State House News Service. So regulators went back to the drawing board, hoping to set rules to keep everyone safe without spoiling the casino’s draw.
That’s a fine line to walk. The Associated Press reported that just weeks after Las Vegas reopened casinos, a handful of employees from casinos, restaurants and hotels have tested positive for COVID-19, “and frightened workers on Monday begged guests to wear masks” in an online news conference.
Casinos here need to reopen to survive and they have a strong interest in keeping everyone safe. But state regulators must get the rules right — even if that means putting distance and plastic shields between bettors, dealers and servers — to play it safe until the data backs up a loosening of restrictions.