Illinois: many gambling and gaming locations could be back in business by June 26, when the state is expected to move into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois

by Administrator
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The Illinois Gaming Board hasn’t announced when it will allow casinos to reopen or when video-gaming machines will be turned on at bars, restaurants and gaming parlors, but officials are reviewing plans submitted by owners on how they will reopen safely.

The board is indicating that many gambling and gaming locations could be back in business by June 26, when the state is expected to move into Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, even though the plan doesn’t mention those industries specifically.

“The timing of resumption of video gaming and casino gaming is entirely dependent on the public health conditions at the time,” board spokesman Gene O’Shea said. “Additionally, any resumption of video gaming or casino gaming will resume within the framework of the Restore Illinois plan and, under that plan, the earliest gaming could resume is (Phase 4).”

The board oversees 10 casinos, including the Casino Queen in East St. Louis and Argosy Casino in Alton, as well as 36,145 video-gaming machines in 7,291 locations across Illinois. All have been shut down since mid-March as part of the state’s actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

Toni Yarber, owner of Verne’s Gaming Cafe in Smithton, spent most of Thursday cleaning and sanitizing. The gaming parlor sells pizza, mixed drinks and beer and serves free chips, soda and candy to customers who play poker or slots on its six machines.

“I called my employees that worked here, and only one of them is coming back,” Yarber said. “They found other jobs. So I’m scrambling to find employees, too.”

EAST ST. LOUIS OFFICIALS WELCOME NEWS

East St. Louis officials are among those welcoming the news of the possibility of casinos reopening. The city gets about $6 million of its $18 million general-fund budget from gaming revenues, sales taxes and income taxes on Casino Queen employees, according to City Manager Brooke Smith.

The city received about half its normal gaming revenues in April and none in May.

“Those funds are used to pay the salaries of policemen and firefighters, so needless to say, we are in a bit of a financial crunch,” Smith said. “We have not reached the point of having to lay people off yet. We’ve been able to manage. But I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to.”

Representatives of the Casino Queen declined an interview request, but General Manager Mitch Johnson emailed the following statement on Thursday:

“We still don’t have a date for reopening the Casino Queen, but we have submitted our reopening plan to the state agencies and are working through the process with them. We continue to work diligently to get the property ready so we can welcome patrons back, and we look forward to sharing more specifics once we have approval from the IGB on our reopening plan and can confirm our reopening date.”

The Missouri Gaming Commission allowed its casinos to reopen June 1.

BUFFETS AND POKER TABLES PROHIBITED

Restore Illinois Phase 4 allows for gatherings of 50 or fewer people and the operation of schools and child-care centers, parks and outdoor recreation, manufacturing plants, health clubs, restaurants and bars, theaters, retail stores and other businesses with capacity limits and adherence to Illinois Department of Public Health safety guidelines.

Last week, the Illinois Gaming Board released two detailed memorandums, one for casino gambling and one for video gaming, with checklists to help owners develop reopening plans that must be approved before they can get back to business.

“(The board’s) primary concern during these challenging times is the health and welfare of gaming patrons, employees, IGB staff and all Illinois residents,” the memorandums state.

The checklists give clues to how operations will be different in the coming weeks and months at casinos with table games and slots, bars and restaurants with video-gaming machines, independent gaming parlors and those in chains such as Ruby’s and Debbie’s Slots and Gaming.

At least five practices will be prohibited at casinos initially. That includes buffet food service, poker rooms, table-game tournaments, valet parking and promotions that require patrons to “cluster.”

MASKS AND HEALTH SCREENINGS REQUIRED

In plans submitted to the Illinois Gaming Board, casinos must explain how they will ensure that:

  • Crowds are limited to 50% of maximum fire-code capacity.
  • Patrons maintain 6 feet of social distance.
  • Employees and patrons wear face coverings.
  • Employees and patrons are screened for fevers and other COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Casinos are cleaned, sanitized and disinfected regularly.

  • Ample signage informs people of rules and best practices.
  • Employees are trained on a variety of coronavirus-related issues.
  • Violations, deficiencies and COVID-19 cases are reported.
  • Restaurants, hotels and spas comply with local and state health requirements.

Video-gaming locations have a similar checklist, except they must follow Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Security capacity and occupancy guidelines for bars and restaurants. The number of gaming machines allowed will depend on how they’re arranged and what other safety measures are put in place.

Options include 1) installing plastic or safety-glass partitions between machines and customers, 2) rearranging machines so they are 6 feet apart, 3) activating only machines that are already 6 feet apart or 4) coming up with a combination of 1 and 2.

Yarber is going for Option 1 at Verne’s Gaming Cafe, which is in a small strip mall at 101 N. Main St. in Smithton.

“The partition has to go behind the chair of the player and above their head, I think a foot and a half,” she said. “I have the (plexiglass), and I’m going to have to start building them, I guess. Everybody needs them, so they’re really expensive. You can’t touch them for under $400 or $600 each.”

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