Reynolds Offers Casino Reopening Date, But Little Direction

Posted on May 27, 2020

Sometime on Monday, some Iowa casinos may welcome patrons through their doors again. Casino guests who expect an instant return to standard operations may be disappointed, however.

IA Gov. Kim Reynolds rescinded her order for all 19 casinos to close on Tuesday. She put new restrictions on the facilities, however, effective indefinitely.

What are the new restrictions on Iowa casinos?

On June 1, casinos all over IA can resume operations. Reynolds’ new order doesn’t place any restrictions on what products and services casinos can offer guests.

Reynolds’ order also does not mandate the use of masks on-premises for either employees or guests. Her new mandate is all about physical distancing inside the facilities.

Reynolds stressed that social distancing guidelines are still in place. In that interest, she restricted casinos to 50% capacity. The order was vague on how the casinos should go about complying with that mandate.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission may issue some guidance about that this week. In other states, similar regulatory bodies have mandated the use of masks and submission to health screenings for employees, for example.

Casinos may exceed Reynolds’ order in terms of distancing and the use of PPE. Casinos in other states like Arkansas require guests to wear masks when at gaming tables.

If Reynolds or the IRGC decline to issue any further guidance, casino operators will make these decisions themselves. Grand Falls Casino may offer a glimpse into the “new normal.”

What’s been happening at the Grand Falls Casino?

Grand Falls Casino, located in Larchwood, IA, recently reopened its golf course, hotel, restaurants, and spa under the same 50% of capacity restriction. Casino operations could look similar.

For those operations at the property, Grand Falls requires employees to wear masks. Those services have increased sanitation measures and communicated to customers that they expect compliance with distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Grand Falls has also installed new plexiglass barriers all over the property, including the gaming floor. How much, if at all, other casinos around the state may replicate these practices is still uncertain.

As of Wednesday morning, none of the state’s casinos have announced they would reopen on June 1 or any date thereafter. Regardless, it’s fair to expect them to do so as soon as they feel confident.

Shuttering of casinos cost state millions of dollars

It’s hard to estimate the exact financial toll that two months of the shutdown of non-essential businesses took on the state. As far as gaming revenue went, the IRGC reported just $19.6 million in March.

Obviously, that figure dropped to zero for April and will show the same in May. For comparison, in March, April, and May of 2019, Iowa’s casinos reported aggregate revenue nearing $397 million.

This year could have been more lucrative for the state because of the presence of legal sports betting in Iowa. It’s fair to assume that events like March Madness, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and the start of the MLB season could have produced a lot of handle had those events occurred as previously scheduled.

Iowa’s in-person registration requirement for online sports betting further hampered its ability to recoup some lost revenue. Only those bettors who had registered their accounts with online sportsbooks in person prior to the shuttering of Iowa casinos could legally wager.

The absence of North American major sports was likely a much bigger factor, however, leading to Iowa’s sportsbooks taking just $1.56 million in handle in April. As long as those absences endure, handle in IA will probably continue to be a mere shell of its full potential.

There is more motivation for casinos to reopen than just trying to restart the flow of revenue, though. The competition between properties in Iowa and surrounding states may be fierce. Casinos in Missouri can reopen on June 1 as well and properties in South Dakota have already opened their doors again.

With the go-ahead from Reynolds, casinos are likely working feverishly to prepare for reopening. For customers and employees alike, it will be a matter of adjusting to a new normal.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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