The disappearance of American sports and its effect on the nation’s nascent sports betting industry has captured headlines and has been topic No. 1 for many in the gaming industry.
And for a good reason.
It’s a development with nearly no historical precedent, minus maybe the 1919 Stanley Cup, which finished without a winner after both teams were hit by an influenza pandemic. It could not have come at a worse time.
Sports gambling, after years of fighting, had gained enormous momentum. Now, its future has stalled.
But the closure of casinos across the country, specifically in Illinois, is having just as big an impact. Thousands have lost their jobs. Economies reliant on in-person gambling are against the ropes.
And the end, despite recent talks of optimism, remains unknown.
IGB: Decision made to ‘prevent further spread’ of virus
The Illinois Gaming Board first announced on March 31 that it had extended a suspension “of all video gaming operations at all licensed establishments of any kind and all casino gambling operations in Illinois” through the end of April.
The announcement was made in conjunction with an earlier reveal by the state’s governor, J.B. Pritzker, that he was lengthening Illinois’ stay-at-home order through April.
“The Gaming Board is monitoring developments regarding COVID-19 and will continue to make decisions based on science, public health guidance, and applicable law and rules,” noted a media release. Illinois has 10 casinos.
The release said updates on the state’s gaming industry would come “as new information becomes available.”
The IGB then announced Tuesday that it was delaying its April 22 board meeting, slated to be held in Chicago. The board said, “information regarding rescheduling will be forthcoming.”
Reopening of Illinois casinos likely to see additional delays
The idea that casinos in Illinois will reopen immediately following the new April 30 deadline is remote.
While some tied to the gaming industry – most notably Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who called Nevada’s shutdown “total insanity” – have cried for reopenings amid fears of what long-term closures could bring, public decision-makers have given no indication that a return to normal will come soon.
And that extends to casinos.
One of Illinois’ neighboring states, for instance, has been clear that it will not reopen casinos until Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb decides to lift his own stay-at-home order.
“At this point, it is unknown when it may be appropriate to consider reopening of the casino properties, but it seems likely the closures will be consistent with the governor’s executive orders,” Sara Tait, executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, told The Times of Northwest Indiana.
It’s likely Illinois, with the timing of its recent announcement, is following a similar pattern.
Comments from public officials bode poorly for casinos
While talk about lifting or rolling back restrictions, and what exactly that could entail, has started to creep into public dialogue, public officials have largely maintained their insistence on social distancing and residents remaining at home.
Pritzker said as recently as Wednesday that requiring residents across Illinois to wear face-coverings when in public “might be seriously important for us to consider,” according to NBC Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, while also expressing optimism about how measures have impacted the state’s “trajectory,” said the city remains “some good ways away” from its peak of COVID-19 cases, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The paper also quoted Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady as saying “we are still in a phase where we are seeing the curve going up,” while Lightfoot said she could not yet provide a timeline on when even small gatherings, like workplaces, will again be allowed.
So, what does that mean for casinos? Nothing good.
States will almost certainly attempt a staggered return to normalcy, with low-risk locations opening first. And one thing is clear: Casinos, at least as we know them pre-coronavirus, will reside at the bottom of that list.
Casinos rely on cards, screens, levers – all things touched by hordes of people, and quickly. They also include close contact, quick and personal service, and an environment that in total is not conducive to responsible social distancing.
In other words, unless the casino industry can figure out a disinfecting technique unknown to the rest of the world, its immediate future is not bright.