Ohio Casinos and Racing Reopenings: Everything You Need to Know

Here’s how Ohio casinos and racetracks are reopening

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on many economic activities across the United States. Casinos and racetracks may not figure in the top priority for reopening though the governments have a vested interest in boosting the state’s revenues. 

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A state like Ohio charges as much as 33% tax on gambling revenues. It came as a great relief for the gambling community when Governor DeWine made an announcement that the casinos and racetracks in Ohio will be reopened on Friday, June 19, 2020. There will be restrictions and regulations in place, considering that the spread of the Coronavirus has not stopped or abated.

The governor says safety will be the top priority

It is not as if the casinos and racetracks alone will be reopened this June 19. Amusement parks are set to be reopened as well. There are water parks in Ohio which will also be allowed to open and entertain visitors. That may appear to be a balancing act considering that opening the gambling spots and leaving the entertainment venues would have sent a wrong message.

The consequences of the Ohio casinos and racetracks reopening announcement can be known only after a few days of their functioning. It may appear to be a coincidence, but West Virginia, a state bordering on Ohio, has also made a similar announcement, the same day, on the opening of casinos in that state.

Other states may follow suit. As mentioned, the states are hungry for revenues since the lockdown has deprived them of income for close to three months.

Governor DeWine has made it clear that the decision to open the casinos and the racetracks has been made while keeping the safety of the public factored in. There are clear guidelines on how these casinos will operate.

A number of restrictions in place

The state of Ohio has imposed mandatory guidelines on the casinos when they reopen on June 19. One of these guidelines relates to isolating the most vulnerable within the community, the aged population. 

Most experts appear to agree that those above a certain age, and with known conditions like diabetes and hypertension are susceptible to the virus. It has therefore been proposed that separate hours be allocated for the elderly in the casinos. 

There are a number of other operating instructions and the state’s health department will be the nodal agency monitoring the implementation of these instructions.

  • All employees of the casinos must wear a mask
  • The casinos will operate at only 50% of their capacity as determined by the fire code
  • Customers arriving at the casinos won’t be able to use valet services
  • There will be no coat services 
  • Guests cannot play poker; the game rooms will remain shut
  • There will be a ceiling of three players per table for playing games like blackjack
  • The limit will be four players on the roulette tables
  • Guests are not under compulsion to wear masks but are encouraged to do so
  • The casino management must put up posters at prominent locations including at the entrance that by entering the floor, they are confirming that they are not affected by COVID-19

There can be some exemptions to these if the health officials are informed in advance and they approve it. These include an exemption from wearing masks by the employees in particular cases. 

Some modifications in the gaming arrangements within the casinos may also be permitted if found acceptable. Obviously, this is a new experience for those running these gambling operations. A lot of their energy would be diverted to ensuring that the regulations are complied with.

In short, the social distancing norms will have to be adopted in totality and no relaxation on that is envisaged.

Four casinos and seven racetracks in Ohio state

There are four casinos in the state of Ohio. There is one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. The Ohio casinos and racing reopening announcement by Governor DeWine cover all four places. If the respective casino managements are fully prepared, they can reopen on June 19. It will be just over three months since they closed when they did. They were shut from March 14, 2020, due to the COVID-19 fears.

Interestingly, the state did not directly order them to shut down. They were told not to permit more than 100 people inside at any given time. This number included the employees as well. The casinos felt it more prudent to close their business down. The state further tightened the norms subsequently and prevented any gathering of more than 10 people seeing the way the virus was spreading viciously.

The seven racing venues are spread across the state of Ohio. In the racinos, there are restrictions on people gathering around the video lottery terminals.

Horse racing without spectators

The state of Ohio has a number of bodies for keeping an oversight on the gambling activities. The Ohio Lottery Commission is the authority that controls racetracks. There is the Ohio State Racing Commission as well. This body is the one that decided in May 2020 that horseracing can be restarted in the state. However, there will be no spectators permitted around the tracks. The only people present will be the direct stakeholders, the owners of horses, trainers, jockeys and other staff.

In Cincinnati’s Belterra Park, they ran their horses from June 4. On the same day, the thoroughbred meet was held in JACK Thistledown near Cleveland as well. The other two, MGM Northfield Park and Scioto Downs in Columbus had already commenced racing in the month of May 2020. As mentioned, there are no spectators allowed in this spectator sport.

The internet is used extensively to facilitate the placing of bets and following through on the results and earnings.

Income from gambling has seen a sharp fall

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The revenues reported by the gambling industry almost halved when compared with the figures for 2019. From January 2019 till May 2019, the revenue reported stood at $809.5 million. In 2020, for the same five-month period, the revenue fell to $410.8 million. Interestingly, the 50% drop appears to be uniform across the different gambling joints in Ohio. All have been equally affected.

Gaming and gambling industries off-the block in reopening

There are heated debates going on throughout the United States if businesses should be allowed to reopen with no signs of the pandemic receding. The gambling industry appears to have taken the lead as in more than half of the 50 states, people are free to indulge in gaming/gambling.

Even with all those restrictions and social distancing norms in place, it is a risk being taken. The risk is equal for everyone working at the casinos and the public visiting the game centers. The state administrations allow the show to go on since they don’t mind the tax collections accruing to the treasury.

What is the road ahead?

Everyone will tread cautiously, at least for a few weeks. There are sufficient indications to show that it may not make a huge difference. There is already a cap on the number of people being permitted.

While a section of the community may still be afraid of contracting the virus and stay away. Going by the reports of large-scale unemployment, it is difficult to predict how many people will be willing to go gambling at this juncture.

If a particular county or town close to where the casino is located shows a sudden spike in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, the local administration may make the decision to shut the facility down immediately.

All these will determine how the decision of the Ohio Governor to open the casinos and racinos plays out in the coming weeks.

Ohio Reopening FAQs

  • Are the casinos required to do some testing of the guests when they reopen?

    The health department would have issued detailed SOPs (standard operating procedures) to casino management on the precautions to be taken while permitting people inside their gambling halls. It is a tough call for them as they do not want to annoy their guests. A simple contactless check of the body temperature and use of hand sanitizers may be mandated.
  • How will the health officials make sure there are no violations of the regulations?

    Some inspectors from the health department may be posted in each of the casinos. The department may carry out surprise inspections as well. The pandemic is unpredictable and dangerous. Nobody wants to take any risk. Casino management may not want to compromise their situation. The customers have a responsibility as well.
  • Will there be any restrictions on the number of hours the casinos are open?

    This is not clear as yet. Since there is a mention of special hours for elder citizens, the time for regular guests may be decreased. Whether closing time will be advanced by one or two hours is not known yet. Many such questions may get clear answers once the casinos actually open on June 19. You may have to wait until then.