slot machines

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected Mount Airy LLC.'s application Wednesday morning for a casino in Big Beaver in Beaver County.

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is providing casinos with guidelines to follow when they reopen, even while acknowledging that it’s unclear when that will happen.

The state closed its 12 casinos between March 13 and March 17 as part of the statewide non-essential business shutdown intended to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Casinos remain closed even in areas of the state that have been moved from the red phase into the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening strategy.

“We will await direction from the Governor, but no facility such as a casino would be in a position to open until at least the green phase,” said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Gaming Control Board.

Neither Wolf nor the Department of Health have unveiled the state’s method of determining when counties or regions of the state will be moved into the green phase when social-distancing restrictions are loosened further.

Casinos have reopened in a handful of states as they’ve relaxed social distancing restrictions, including: California, Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, according to The Associated Press. Casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, remain closed, though casinos there have begun taking reservations for as soon as next week, according to NJ.com.

The closing of Pennsylvania’s casinos carries a daunting price tag, as they generate about $70 million in tax revenue a month to the state, money that is directed toward providing property tax rebates to homeowners.

Slots generated $30 million in tax revenue in March before they were closed. Since then, the state has only gotten casino revenue from online betting.

Casino games offered online generated gross revenue of $43 million during April. That figure is 73 percent higher than the previous month of March when revenue was $24 million.

But despite the uptick, online gambling only generated $17 million in tax revenue. And sports betting, with few sports on which to wager, tumbled 58 percent in April, compared to March. There were $2.9 million in sports bets placed in April compared to $6.9 million in wagers in March.

In April, the state announced that slot revenue had provided funding for $621 million in tax relief for 2020-21. But the state has not announced how that money will be divided between school districts.

“The impact of the reduced casino revenue is still being reviewed,” said Eric Levis, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

The amount of tax relief varies dramatically by school district, Department of Education data shows. The maximum tax relief per household last year was $688 in the Chester-Upland School District in Delaware County. Of the state’s 501 school districts, 299 of them provided tax relief of between $250 and $500, funded with slots tax revenue, the Education Department data shows.

REOPENING GUIDELINES

“As conditions throughout the Commonwealth improve and the reopening of casinos is authorized, the PGCB desires to assure that re-openings occur in a manner which promote the safety of casino patrons and employees alike as well as assure an environment conducive to proper regulatory oversight,” said Executive Director Kevin O’Toole in announcing the new guidelines..

Under the new guidelines, patrons will be required to wear masks, but they will be discouraged from wearing hats. Patrons who insist on wearing hats will be asked to remove their head gear temporarily so security cameras can capture their image, according to the guidelines.

The casinos are also supposed to add measures to ensure that patrons can have six-feet of social-distancing space while gambling, according to those guidelines.

The guidelines indicate that casinos are being encouraged to develop mechanisms for identifying if patrons are ill and barring them from the gaming floor if casino staff determine a patron is sick.

O’Toole said these new operational requirements have been laid out by the PGCB based on best-practices guidelines along with the various plans authored by gaming companies operating in Pennsylvania.

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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