Months Behind Regional Competitors, Catskills Casino At Last Reopens

Dozens of casino employees applauded patron arrivals just before the official 10 a.m. reopening on Wednesday.
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After visiting 11 casino and two racetrack reopenings in the Northeast this summer, I wondered if I would find Resorts World Catskills’ reawakening on Wednesday to be any different.

To a degree, it was.

Dozens of casino employees applauded patron arrivals just before the official 10 a.m. reopening for the first time since mid-March. That seemed appropriate, given that New York State’s four commercial casinos and its numerous racinos have just been given the green light — three months after upstate tribal casinos and rival Connecticut casinos reopened and two months after Atlantic City’s casinos opened their doors.

A mid-week, post-Labor Day launch figured to ease any concerns about a mob of customers waiting outside, and indeed there was plenty of elbow room all morning. A 25% maximum capacity did not seem to be an issue.

The new casino environment

Table games at Resorts World have what are now familiar plexiglass partitions separating players from each other and from dealers.

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Gaming tables feature the plexiglass dividers now commonplace in casinos

Trios of slot machines grouped together had two seats removed to enhance social distancing.

One machine active, two turned off

A food hall was open, but an order of a croissant and orange juice — both listed on the menu — had to turn into a bagel and bottled water instead (and butter was not readily found by the server).

Still, it’s progress for a New York industry that has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Jersey casinos took in $147.4 million in revenue in July, with an added boost of $87.5 million from online casino gaming and $29.6 million from sports betting, most of the latter coming from computers and mobile devices. New York casinos, meanwhile, had none of those revenue streams that month — or the month before.

The plan at the Catskills casino — the closest place in New York for NYC residents to place a legal sports bet — is for 100,000 square feet of partitioned gaming tables and for three restaurants to be in operation.

Temperature? Check

Resorts World Catskills is using thermal screening for temperature checks, which you won’t even notice unless you register a high temperature. The casino also requires customers to wear face masks and has 200 hand sanitizing stations available.

As has been typical in my Northeast gaming visits, face mask usage is nearly perfect; the only “fail” observed on Wednesday was a woman whose mask slipped below her nose.

There is no food or beverage service on the gaming floor yet, and no live entertainment.

For slots players in the New York City area, they may wish to wait until the Sept. 21 reopening of Empire Casino at Yonkers Raceway.

Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs — both owned by Meadowlands Racetrack operator Jeff Gural — welcomed patrons on Wednesday at limited capacity, as did Del Lego casino in the Finger Lakes region and Rivers Casino in Schenectady.

The $1.2 billion Catskills casino opened in February 2018 — and almost immediately found itself in severe financial trouble. By mid-2019, the casino’s board was informed that the property was not “financially self-sustaining,” raising the specter of bankruptcy.

In March, parent company Genting Malaysia announced a $40 million refinancing — raising the casino’s total debt to $540 million.

Is this long-delayed reopening a case of “too little, too late”?

The eager smiles of the casino’s employees on Wednesday suggested that they, at least, have not given up the fight.

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