No dice, yet, for casino reopenings in Illinois
While casinos in Las Vegas reopened a week ago and Indiana prepares to welcome back gamblers Monday, it's no dice, yet, for the 10 gambling houses in Illinois.
Illinois Gaming Board officials said Thursday the timing and conditions for the resumption of casino gambling is still unknown, but they will be based on public health guidance and the framework of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan.
The state ordered all casinos closed March 16 amid the outbreak of COVID-19.
"Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois Gaming Board are mindful of the hardship and dire economic disruption this pandemic is causing for our industry, our licensees, their employees, and communities and families across Illinois," board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said during a board meeting Thursday. "We are committed to the safe, fair, deliberate, consistent and regulatory compliant resumption of casino and video gaming when health conditions permit."
Also Thursday, the board took steps to shore up a promised new state revenue source -- sports betting -- once casinos reopen. At as much as $10 million a pop, four-year master sports wagering licenses were doled out to seven casinos, including Rivers in Des Plaines, Grand Victoria in Elgin, Hollywood in Aurora and Joliet, Par-A-Dice in East Peoria, Argosy in Alton and Casino Queen in East St. Louis.
The state's three horse racing tracks -- Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights, Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney and Fairmount Park in Collinsville -- also have applied for sports betting licenses, but they haven't yet been approved. Other major sporting venues are also eligible, while online-only sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings have to wait 18 months, under terms of the state gambling expansion approved a year ago.
With a temporary license in hand, Rivers was less than a week into taking bets at its new sportsbook in early March when the temporary closure began.
Thursday marked the first meeting -- held by videoconference -- of the appointed state regulatory panel since January, with other meetings canceled due to the coronavirus.
Earlier in the week, the state agency released a set of protocols casinos must follow to obtain approval to resume operations. It includes 6-foot social distancing requirements; the availability and use of face masks and personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes; and cleaning of touch surfaces, table game areas, dice, chips and cards.
Temperature checks will be required upon entry to casinos, which would be limited to 50% occupancy to start. For now, what won't be permitted is buffets, poker rooms, table game tournaments or any other promotions that require patrons to cluster.
Each casino must submit its own resumption plan to the gaming board for approval, officials said.
While protocols vary from state to state, Illinois' most lucrative casino, Rivers in Des Plaines, may follow some of the procedures of its sister casino in Pittsburgh, which reopened Tuesday.
Gamblers arrived to find plexiglass dividers between sports betting kiosks, social distancing decals near craps tables, only three seats per blackjack table, every other slot machine available, and 140 hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes stations.
In addition, a "Rivers Clean Team" regularly wipes down slot machines, and the casino, normally open 24/7, closes early weekday mornings for a deep-clean.