Coronavirus closes Atlantic City casinos, dealing the industry another losing hand

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.  – After years of ups and downs, Atlantic City’s casinos are facing another setback.

All nine of them remain closed because of the coronavirus and most of the people who worked in them have lost their jobs.

“It’s very quiet out here,” said Scott Heath, a food server at Caesars.

Heath said he’s worked in the city’s casinos for 40 years, but he’s not used to seeing the area so desolate.

“There’s no traffic. On a day like this, you would have traffic. You would have the jitneys operational going both ways. Yeah, it’s very eerie,” Heath said.

Scott Heath has worked in the city's casinos for 40 years.

Scott Heath has worked in the city's casinos for 40 years.

The casinos have been closed for nearly nine weeks – the longest closure in Atlantic City’s history.

“When we closed in the past, it’s been for a short time. When we closed for [Hurricane] Sandy and the state budget not being approved, we were closed for less than a week,” said Steve Callender, the president of the Casino Association of New Jersey.

According to the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, over 26,000 people worked in Atlantic City’s casinos as of March 1, and most of them have been laid off.

“Certainly, the most unique time in my 40-plus-year career,” said Jim Allen, the chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming.

Allen said it could take a while for the city to recover financially.

All nine casinos have been closed for nearly nine weeks – the longest closure in Atlantic City’s history.

All nine casinos have been closed for nearly nine weeks – the longest closure in Atlantic City’s history.

“It’s going to be a very, very slow and gradual process of coming back. I do think that the long-term recovery could be close to a year,” Allen said.

The American Gaming Association estimated the casino closures have been costing Atlantic City $540 million a month.

But, according to Allen, safety has remained the top priority. “This is not about just making money; this is about being very cautious. We are dealing with human life here.”

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With no reopening date in sight, industry experts have been preparing for the future once the state gives casinos the green light to open their doors.

“The casino is going to be much different than people are used to seeing it,” Callender said. “If you’re playing slots or tables, you won’t sit next to someone you that don’t know. The employees will all be wearing masks.”

And, forget those casino crowds.

Atlantic City's casinos remain closed with no reopening date set.

Atlantic City's casinos remain closed with no reopening date set.

“It literally could be anywhere from 20 percent of capacity, but certainly no greater than 50 percent,” Allen said.

Heath asserted that he’s used to change in the area. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs.”

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This was the fifth time the casinos in Atlantic City have closed.

“We always come back, and I am confident that we will, that we will persevere. We’re pretty strong here,” Heath said.