Reduced hours, new capacity limits at most Illinois casinos

Eight of Illinois' 10 casinos are operating under reduced daily hours and new capacity limits amid rising COVID-19 positivity rates in most state regions.

The new Illinois Gaming Board rules, the latest of which took effect this week at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, mean most casinos are open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and capacity is limited to 25%. That's down from the 50% limit established in July, when gambling houses were allowed to reopen after being closed 3½ months at the onset of the pandemic.

Indoor food and beverage service is suspended, but outdoor service, curbside and carryout are permitted under the state's rules. For instance, at Rivers, Hugo's Frog Bar & Chop House and the new BetRivers Sportsbook are serving food on outdoor heated patios.

The latest restrictions were triggered by positivity rates averaging at least 8% for three consecutive days in most regions of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan. The new rules, for now, apply to all casinos in the state except Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria and Jumer's Casino in Rock Island, which are in Region 2.

The same rules apply at many of the 36,000 video gambling machines in bars and restaurants statewide, which can remain open for betting from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., though food and beverage can't be ordered.

Mask wearing, social distancing and sanitation measures still apply at casinos and video gambling terminals as they did this summer, state regulators say.

"I want to thank our industry licensees at casinos, video gaming locations and our terminal operators for their efforts to comply with COVID-19 mitigation efforts and to take reasonable and common-sense steps to keep themselves, their employees and their patrons safe during this very challenging time," Illinois Gaming Board administrator Marcus Fruchter said during a special board meeting Thursday. "Needless to say, failure to comply with these common sense restrictions could result in serious health consequences for everybody and further contribute to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the state that could put the health and continued operation of our industry in jeopardy."

Failure to comply, Fruchter added, could subject licensees to discipline, up to and including revocation.

The rules could be relaxed, officials said, if a region's positivity rate averages 6.5% or less over a two-week period.

Also Thursday, Fruchter announced at least a six-month delay in the awarding of new casino licenses in Waukegan, the South suburbs, Rockford and downstate Williamson County.

The original deadline was Wednesday - a year after applications were submitted - but Fruchter attributed the delay to pandemic-related difficulties his staff members encountered during their routine review and investigation process. That included problems making site visits, conducting interviews and obtaining tax documents and other records from local, state and federal agencies, he said.

The vetting process continues, he said.

"Like all governmental agencies and private businesses, the board's work has been impacted by COVID-19," Fruchter said. "This is not an excuse or a crutch. It is simply a recognition of the realities that work and life are different in a global pandemic."

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