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NJ Governor Eases Casino Restrictions

Starting March 19, Casinos Will Be Able To Operate At 50% Capacity

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that he signed an executive order that will lessen restrictions on Atlantic City’s nine brick-and-mortar casinos.

Murphy signed Executive Order 230, which increase indoor capacity for many businesses, including casinos, restaurants and bars, to 50%. The order will go into effect March 19 at 6 a.m. According to Murphy’s tweet announcing the move, New York City will implement nearly identical measures.

Like many other governors, Murphy shuttered his state’s brick-and-mortar gambling industry about a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He reopened the casino industry last July, allowing properties to open at 25% of its maximum capacity, but banned indoor drinking and dining. Eventually, he dropped the food and drink restrictions, but issued an edict in November that kept those dining establishments from serving food between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Murphy continued to loosen restrictions in 2021 and allowed casinos to jump to 35% capacity in February before his most recent announcement another jump coming in a few days, coming shortly after he received good news regarding virus numbers.

“When our restaurant capacity last changed, our hospitals were treating just under 2,900 patients,” said Murphy. “That number has come down by 1,000 and been consistent since then.”

The state’s land-based casinos have been struggling over the last 12 months since the virus took hold and governments have locked down entire industries. There was a 15.3% year-over-year increase in January’s gambling revenue, but it was driven by the online gamblers, not its retail counterparts.

Online casinos saw an 88.4% year-over-year increase and more than 90% of the state’s nearly $1 billion sports bets were placed online. Land-based casinos, on the other hand, watched revenue decline year-over-year by 16.6%.

As mandates become less cumbersome and vaccines are distributed on a mass scale, visitors will likely return to casinos and the industry will rebound. Casino executives have been touting “pent-up demand” for some time and based on the turnouts from the recent return of major poker tournaments, they aren’t wrong.

The World Poker Tour held two events so far in 2021 with huge turnouts. There were 1,573 entrants in the Lucky Hearts Poker Open main event at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood in January and 937 entries showed up to WPT Venetian earlier in March.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced a similar plan last month that gets Silver State casinos back to 50% capacity this month and full capacity at the start of May.