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Mass. Casinos To Remain Closed Until May 18

This Aug. 15, 2018, photo shows slot machines on the main floor at the MGM Springfield casino. (Charles Krupa/AP)
This Aug. 15, 2018, photo shows slot machines on the main floor at the MGM Springfield casino. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The Gaming Commission voted unanimously on Friday to prolong their mandated shutdown of the state's slots parlor and casinos until at least May 18, in line with Gov. Charlie Baker's latest order. They also announced plans for an internal group to focus in-depth on issues around re-opening casinos.

The commission previously decided on March 14 to close the state's three casinos, more than a week before Baker ordered non-essential businesses shuttered. With this latest extension, the casinos will have been closed for at least two months.

Typically, the state can rely on about $20 million in monthly tax revenue from gambling. Before they closed in mid-March, the state's casinos and slots parlor collected roughly $35 million in gross gaming revenue, generating just under $10 million in tax revenue for the state. With all three facilities closed for the entirety of April, Mass. will see no tax revenue from gaming for that month, further compounding an already nightmarish revenue picture for state budget managers.

The state's three simulcast centers — at Plainridge Park, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park — also remain closed to the public, the commission's director of racing, Dr. Alexandra Lightbown, said Friday. Plainridge and Suffolk Downs, which offer remote betting via advanced deposit wagering, are allowed to continue doing that, the commission agreed.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said Friday that she is working with Interim Executive Director Karen Wells to assemble an internal "restart working group" that will help to develop "a responsible restart plan" for the casinos and the Gaming Commission's offices. She said commissioners should expect more detail on that group at next Thursday's meeting.

"There's really two buckets; there's the technical opening and then, because of the situation we find ourselves in now, we have health and safety issues we need to address," Wells said. "The technical opening protocols and procedures will consist of an assessment of the regulatory process required to bring casinos back online, including an extensive operations checklist that ensures necessary compliance and integrity standards."

The second "bucket" of issues the plan will have to address relate specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation measures that are unique to the public health crisis.

"Topics there are going to include, but not be limited to, enhanced sanitation procedures, employee training, physical distancing, occupancy limitation and any other guidance provided by the public health authorities," Wells said. "The plan will also need to account for what procedures will be necessary in the event of a restart setback."

The commission has already begun looking into what it might be able to learn from Macau, China. After shutting down for two weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic there, Macau casinos began to reopen in late February under tight restrictions.

These restrictions included only allowing half of each casino's tables to be open, requiring all gamblers to wear masks and have their body temperature taken when entering a casino and casino employees must also attest that they are healthy before reporting to work.

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