Well, it's official: As of early November, all three of Massachusetts' commercial casinos will have to close their doors no later than 9:30 p.m.
This marks a stark departure from the previous limitations, which essentially allowed for 24/7 operation. The casinos will now need to remain closed until at least 5 a.m., costing them prime gambling hours, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., particularly on the weekends.
The reasoning is single-fold: COVID-19. As infection rates continue to rise throughout the United States, local and state governments are being forced to take more precautions. It was always a matter of time before businesses deemed nonessential that incited mass gatherings would be forced to make adjustments. Places like gyms and spas find themselves in the same boat.
While this is a blow for the casinos' revenue—and, by extension, the state government that reaps tax-money benefits—it isn't the worst-case scenario. The nightmare outcome would be having to close altogether, just as they did between March and July when the coronavirus was first ripping through the US.
What happens next is anyone's guess. But the impact will prove costly for an undisclosed period of time. It might also change how people get their gambling fix in the future.
Impact of Early Casino Closings
Back in September, the three casinos in Massachusetts reported combined gross gaming revenue of $70.5 million. That was while operating at 50 percent capacity, an encouraging sign for their businesses.
Massachusetts' latest stay-at-home advisory figures to significantly eat into that. The impact won't be as adverse during the workweek when the appeal of late-night gambling is limited. But the weekend crowd—specifically on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—accounts for a ton of revenue in casinos all over.
Shutting down before 10 p.m. on those days is going to be expensive in the long run. This, mind you, is in addition to all other limitations the casinos are up against. Encore, one of the gambling spots in Massachusetts, was already resigned to keeping their hotel closed through at least the end of 2020. Now...this.
To be sure, Massachusetts isn't overreacting—or even acting alone. Illinois has already implemented similar policies, and establishments in Delaware and Maryland are soon expected to follow suit. Casinos in Atlantic City and throughout the rest of New Jersey are on a similar track. Their restaurants were ordered to close by 10 p.m. as of November 9, in an attempt to cut down the size of the indoor gatherings.
Will Casino Closings Get Worse?
The short answer to this question is: We don't know.
Coronavirus has already coaxed other countries into a second lockdown. There's a strong chance the United States follows suit, particularly after Joe Biden's victory in the presidential race.
Really, the livelihood of casinos depends on the COVID-19 infection rates. The number of new reported cases in the United States reached an all-time high on November 13, and that record stands to be broken a few more times throughout flu season and as people meet for the holidays.
Casinos across the country may be lucky to be open at all. Take California for example. The number of cases there is up 51 percent week over week. At this point, the US appears headed for where it was back in March, when everything needed to close down—including casinos.
News of a potential vaccine is seen as encouraging. A company called Moderna reported a 94.5 percent success rate so far with one of theirs. However, assuming that the vaccine works, it is believed mass deployment will take at least a year. And the US isn't even ready to begin deploying a vaccine yet.
Loosely translated: Things may get worse for casinos, both in Massachusetts and everywhere else, before they get better.
What Does This Mean for Casino-Goers and Bettors?
For now, avid gamblers can still get their fix inside a smaller window of operation from their local casinos. Certain states, like Nevada—specifically the Las Vegas strip—and Florida, have yet to reinstitute previous limitations or outright closings.
Long term, though, it may prove more viable for people to get their betting fix online.
Most people assume that means wagering on sports. They're called online sportsbooks, after all. But places like Bovada and BetOnline are so much more than their sports markets. They are also online casinos. They have video slots, table games, and poker rooms. Some online casinos even have live people acting as dealers through streams. You can still get the gambling experience right from the comfort of your home.
Yes, it's different. There is no replacing the feeling of pulling the lever or pressing the button on a slot machine. And in-person table games are beyond compare. The thrill of pushing chips toward the middle of the table is part of the intrigue.
Still, the world's normal is changing almost daily. It may return to business-as-usual at some point, but as the state of Massachusetts is already proving, that point doesn't appear to be coming anytime soon.
Check out this list of the best online sportsbooks so you can decide which one to use when you don't have access to a casino: