No smoking, drinking or eating as Atlantic City casinos open

WAYNE PARRY

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City tried Prohibition once before. It worked so well that Nucky Johnson, the legendary politician and racketeer, built a Boardwalk empire immortalized on HBO nearly a century later.

It also tried banning smoking, too. That lasted for 20 days as smokers stayed away, sending casino revenue plummeting.

But New Jersey will ban both, again, when Atlantic City's nine casinos reopen after more than three months of coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The late-night announcements from Gov. Phil Murphy landed like a one-two punch on Atlantic City's casino industry, already reeling from lost revenue during the pandemic, and making plans to creak back to life at the state-mandated 25% of normal capacity.

“No booze? No one's coming,” said Bob McDevitt, president of a casino employees union. “I really don't even think they should open. Why would they?”

Many casinos had planned to reopen Thursday, the first day the state will let them. But that was before they knew they could not let their customers smoke, drink alcohol or anything else, or eat inside the casinos.

The top-performing casino, the Borgata, almost immediately folded what it saw as a losing hand, announcing it was scrapping its reopening plans for the immediate future. Instead, it will wait until conditions are more favorable.

On Tuesday, casino executives huddled in staff meetings, looking for more information and trying to decide whether it made sense to reopen at all.

By mid-afternoon, all except the Borgata announced plans to reopen in the coming days. Resorts, Tropicana, Ocean, Golden Nugget and Hard Rock all said they will reopen Thursday. Harrah's, Caesars and Bally's will reopen Friday.

Borgata had no estimate of when it might reopen.

Jim Allen, president of Hard Rock International, said the company and its thousands of workers are eager to reopen and start making up for some of the losses they have experienced since March.

“People are really desperate for a job and a paycheck,” he said.

Murphy said Tuesday casinos will just have to endure a new reality until conditions improve.

“It's not a life sentence,” he said. “We would like to be full-bore open; we're just not there yet.”

Before the pandemic, Atlantic City had started to regain its groove, reclaiming its former spot at the nation's No. 2 gambling market behind Nevada in terms of annual gambling revenue.

Nevada casinos reopened nearly a month earlier than those in New Jersey, with many of the same health protocols: temperatures checks for guests and workers, mandated masks after being optional for a time, and hand sanitizer stations. Smoking was still allowed.

Within minutes of Murphy's announcements, made in a news release issued shortly before 10 p.m. Monday, social media lit up with complaints.

Some grumbled that the governor had sucked the fun out of the casino experience, even as a smaller number defended the decision on public health grounds. Some said they were scrapping long-planned trips, and others said they would take their business to Pennsylvania casinos.

Some vowed to come anyway, mixing drinks in their rooms and bringing sandwiches for dinner.

The bans will also reduce the number of laid-off workers who will return. Drink servers and indoor restaurant workers were to comprise a significant portion of the force that had been envisioned.

McDevitt said 60% of his union members had been scheduled to return to work this week. Now, as few as 30% may go back.

Casinos can offer outdoor dining, and those with beach bars, outdoor decks or Boardwalk seating still plan to offer it. And alcohol will still be sold in liquor stores and non-casino businesses. But the last thing casinos want is their patrons leaving the premises, for any reason.

Murphy said he reversed course on indoor dining because of the continuing outbreaks in parts of the country, even though New Jersey has seen a significant reduction in the number of its virus cases.

A significant portion of Atlantic City's casino customers comes from New York, which leads the nation in total virus cases. Murphy also said crowds at popular spots at the Jersey Shore and elsewhere have not been following social distancing rules or wearing masks.

That angered many in the casino industry.

“This is like Catholic school: A handful of people misbehaves, and the entire class gets punished,” McDevitt said.

___

Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.

___

Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

More From

  • Does wearing a mask pose any health risks?

    Babies and toddlers should not wear masks because they could suffocate. The same goes for anyone who has trouble removing a mask without help. Others can wear masks without risking their health, according to experts, despite false rumors to the contrary.

  • Russian officials: 78% of voters back extending Putin's rule

    Almost 78% of voters in Russia have approved amendments to the country's constitution that will allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036, Russian election officials said Thursday after all the votes were counted. Kremlin critics said the vote was rigged. In the week-long balloting that concluded on Wednesday, 77.9% voted for the changes, and 21.3% voted against, with 100% of the precincts counted by Thursday morning, Russia's Central Election Commission said.

  • Police charged for 2 deaths in custody during India lockdown

    Four police officers have been arrested over the deaths in custody of a father and son who were detained for keeping their shop open during a coronavirus lockdown in southern India, police said Thursday. The police are investigating accusations that the officers badly beat the shopkeepers in Thoothukudi, a port city in Tamil Nadu state, last week and they face murder charges, senior police officer K. Shankar told reporters. The arrests came on Wednesday and Thursday after a court ruled that autopsy reports of the father and son suggested the police officers had been involved in the two men's deaths by torture.

  • Whipping post removed from Delaware courthouse square

    An 8-foot (2.4 meters) tall whipping post was removed from a Delaware county courthouse square Wednesday after activists said the post was a reminder of racial discrimination. The post outside the Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown was removed after an hour and a half of excavation and put in storage unit with other historical artifacts, news outlets reported. A book published in 1947 by Robert Caldwell, a former sociology professor in the state, said more than 60% of those beaten between 1900 and 1945 were Black, The Delaware News Journal reported.