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Cuomo: Announcement coming on casinos seeking to reopen

An empty parking and closed Jake's 58 casino

An empty parking and closed Jake's 58 casino in Islandia on March 15. Credit: James Carbone

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hinted that Jake’s 58 and New York State’s three other commercial casinos — shuttered since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic — may be given the green light to reopen soon.

“We will have an announcement next week,” Cuomo said Sunday during a conference call with reporters. “It is going to be positive news.”

Casino operators have ripped the governor for not allowing their facilities to reopen even though six upstate casinos operated by the Oneida and Seneca nations opened for business in June, albeit with limited capacity. Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods also opened in June, while Atlantic City casinos began opening in July.

Casino operators say thousands of jobs could be lost if the state’s four casinos and 11 “racinos” do not reopen soon.

Cuomo has said he understands their frustration but that casinos are nonessential businesses and, like theaters and indoor dining establishments, could serve as vectors for transmission of a virus that has killed more than 25,000 people in the state.

“I understand their point, I understand their economic reality, I understand the feeling that you see other places opening up but you still can’t go back to work,” Cuomo said Sunday.

The news could be helpful to Nassau and Suffolk counties, which receive millions in revenue annually from their OTBs. The State Legislature established the OTBs in the 1970s to help finance the horse racing industry and pass profits to local governments.

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Both Nassau and Suffolk are expecting massive budget deficits in 2020.

Nassau OTB paid the county $4.8 million in July, but the county had been expecting a $5 million payment on May 15. The money is for video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Nassau has 1,000 dedicated VLTs at Aqueduct.

But OTB had been receiving substantially reduced payments from casino operator Genting New York LLC. Nassau budget officials planned for $20 million in VLT profits from OTB in 2020.

A spokesman for Nassau OTB declined to comment on the governor's comment.

Jon Schneider, a spokesman for Suffolk OTB, which operates Jake’s 58 in Islandia, said he was not aware of any pending announcement to reopen casinos and racinos. But Jake’s 58 has already been making preparations to reopen in a way that keeps patrons and employees safe, he said.

“Based on what the governor said, we are optimistic,” Schneider said

Schneider said the casino undergoes regular and rigorous deep cleaning, and that the air in the facility will be scrubbed by high-quality filters. Patrons will be given cards that explain they will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing and undergo temperature checks when they enter the casino, he said. They will also be required to show identification that will be used to trace guests in case of an outbreak at the casino, he said.

Schneider said most of the casino’s 200 workers have been furloughed for months and that they are eager to get back to work. “Jake’s is the most successful casino in New York because of the men and women who work there,” he said.

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