This story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones, Carl MacGowan, Antonio Planas and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.
The dice in casinos statewide can start rolling again Sept. 9 — with reduced crowds — after months of a shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, while shoppers can return to malls in New York City, also in limited numbers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.
Plans also are in motion to put Long Islanders back at the slot machines, with sites in Suffolk and Queens revving up for action.
Cuomo said the return of casinos amid a low level of new COVID-19 cases is "the right next step in our data-driven, phased reopening, which is working."
The casino at Jake’s 58 in Islandia will reopen Wednesday, said Glen A. White, spokesman for Delaware North, the betting parlor’s Buffalo-based owner. The hotel portion of the facility is remaining closed.
Avid Jake’s 58 casino patron Tara Starke couldn’t believe her luck when she learned Long Island’s only casino will be back on a significant day for her.
“It’s my birthday — Wednesday. I consider it a good omen,” said Starke, 43, of Coram.
Starke said she and her brother will definitely celebrate her 44th at Jake’s.
“They know me by face and name,” said Starke, a card-holding member who has missed her weekly visits to the slot machines.
Starke, who manages a group home for disabled adults, said she's used to wearing a mask at her job and frequently washes her hands. “I’m sure they’ll be keeping their machines clean,” she said.
Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens also is planning to open that day, said Dan Bank, a spokesman for the casino.
In a joint statement, White and Suffolk OTB said Jake's 58 would follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Masks and social distancing will be required, and hand sanitizers will be available on the gaming floors. Customers will have their temperatures checked when they enter, he said.
“We thank the governor and the New York State Gaming Commission for the thoughtful discussion about our reopening plans that helped bring about today’s announcement,” White and OTB said. “We are ready, and we look forward to bringing back our employees and welcoming our guests."
Bob DeSalvio, president of Genting Americas East, said: “The Resorts World team has been anxiously awaiting the day when we can open our doors again to the fun and excitement that our casinos are known for."
He added the resorts "have implemented a plan to seamlessly integrate" the gaming experience "with the more stringent health protocols that are needed to operate safely" and help New York move forward.
Cuomo also announced that school districts must submit their daily test results from coronavirus tests so they can be posted by the state, and said he would like to allow indoor dining to resume in New York City — but authorities there must provide personnel like police to enforce compliance.
Casinos at 25% capacity
Under the state's plans, casinos will be able to reopen with a limited 25% capacity as long as they have enhanced air filtration systems and have set up their machines at least 6 feet apart. Physical barriers will be required for table games. Additional staff must monitor foot traffic.
Malls in New York City will be able to reopen at 50% capacity, with enhanced air filtration in place and observing other physical distancing requirements.
Indoor dining will not be allowed in either casinos or malls located in New York City, until those restrictions are lifted citywide, Cuomo said.
"The governor’s announcement … allowing the safe reopening of casinos is good news for Long Island, as it means more job opportunities and new revenue to help address the budget crisis brought on by the pandemic," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
The return of activity to Aqueduct could result in more revenue for the financially strapped Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., paid from its 1,000 video lottery terminals at the Queens casino. Genting was expected to pay Nassau OTB $25 million this year. In turn, Nassau OTB was prepared to pay Nassau $20 million of the proceeds from Resorts World.
But with the casino closed, Genting has been providing Nassau OTB with smaller payments.
Without that revenue, OTB officials have been behind in payments to the county.
Bank said, “We have continued to make payments to Nassau OTB and will continue to honor our agreement, and we look forward to opening on September 9th.”
OTB had planned to pay the county $5 million in four quarterly installments.
In July, Nassau OTB paid the county $4.8 million, $200,000 short of the $5 million it had been planning to provide to Nassau by May 15. The county has not received the $5 million due in August, according to comptroller's office records.
Nassau County, suffering from the loss of sales tax receipts, expects a $384 million shortfall in 2020.
Nassau OTB said in a statement that the casinos decision "is welcome news" and that its management team will review state reopening guidelines, stating it "would be premature" to discuss economic and other impacts.
"Nassau Regional Off Track Betting Corporation has been doing its part to safely participate in the reopening of our society, having already opened the doors at three of its six facilities in compliance with all applicable health and safety regulations," the statement read in part.
27 days below 1%
The state had another day of overall low levels of coronavirus infections on Wednesday, except for a spike in cases in the Western New York region, Cuomo said. Out of 88,981 COVID-19 tests completed across the state, 889, or 0.99%, came back positive.
It was the 27th straight day New York State's level of new positives was below 1%. The infection level was 1.1% on Long Island and 0.8% in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases was 79 in Nassau, 66 in Suffolk County and 304 in New York City.
Seven people died Wednesday of coronavirus-related causes.
State Liquor Authority agents and state troopers visited 898 establishments in New York City and on Long Island on Wednesday, and issued summonses for violations of coronavirus rules to seven of them. They included four in Suffolk.
SCCC staff takes pay cut
As the pandemic's economic impact rippled through the region, union and nonunion professional staff at Suffolk County Community College agreed to salary cuts and deferral of benefits, saving the school $2 million, officials said.
“The college continues to employ a very aggressive strategy to ensure that it continues to meet its financial obligations,” interim President Louis Petrizzo said in a statement, noting the college has not received 20% of its fourth-quarter aid payment from the state.
Cuomo has said that if the state does not receive additional federal stimulus money, the college can expect a minimum 20% cut in aid for 2020-21. The college has had to spend more on technology for students and staff, on personal protective equipment, and to upgrade cleaning protocols.
Faculty Association members will defer retroactive payments from their February 2020 full-time salary increase until the end of the contract term in 2022. The school has about 18,000 students.
Members of the Guild of Administrative Officers will take a reduction to their biweekly salaries for one year, and longevity payments for both units will be deferred.
Exempt employees’ biweekly salaries are reduced 5% for one year, and 2021 longevity payments were deferred. The Association of Municipal Employees previously agreed to defer its longevity payment.
“It isn’t easy … to ask members to take a salary reduction,” Guild president Sean Tvelia said in a statement. “But Guild members understand the college’s fiscal challenges and, more importantly, they understand that a Suffolk County Community College education is a bridge to a better life for our community.”
In the larger region, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Patrick Foye told Reuters in a webinar Thursday that the rate of customers covering their faces while riding on trains and buses has dipped from around 95% in July to 90% today.
“This is a critical issue," Foye said, "because there is nothing that our customers can do that is more important, in terms of preserving their health, their co-commuters health and our employees, than wearing masks.”