MGM Springfield casino reopens under strict state regulations

After four months of being shut down from the coronavirus pandemic, Massachusetts casinos have reopened among some of the strictest and most-detailed health and safety regulations in the nation. 

“This is a big day for us,” Chris Kelley, MGM Springfield’s president and chief operating officer told CNBC. “The opportunity to welcome back our guests and service this community again is a wonderful feeling.”

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission capped occupancy at 25%, and it remains to be seen whether the casinos can turn a profit with such severe limits on visitation. 

Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden has estimated he could break even at roughly 25% to 30% of pre-pandemic revenue. Penn’s Plainridge Park Casino reopened last week, and like Wynn Resorts’ Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield, new safety measures are in place.

Upon reopening, several of Penn’s properties in Indiana and Ohio have seen daily gross gaming revenue grow between 25% to 75% year over year.

MGM’s Springfield casino reopens with plexiglass barriers and socially distanced slot machines.

Source: Springfield, MA Mayor’s Office

“We reconfigured our floors significantly. Patrons who came here previously will notice a lot of changes. We had to actually physically move a lot of machines around to free up some of the more popular machines so that they’re more socially distant,” said Seth Stratton, MGM Springfield’s vice president and legal counsel. 

There are 6-foot high plexiglass dividers, socially distanced slot machines and frequent cleaning and sanitizing. It is all part of the new normal for casinos and other public facilities. Games like poker, roulette and craps will not reopen in this initial phase. 

MGM has also retrofitted its property to increase outdoor seating options by 200% and installed a giant screen for guests to enjoy entertainment.

Food and beverage service will also see big changes. Guests will not be allowed to walk around the casino with a drink, and beverage service will be limited to seated customers who are actively playing.

Dining options will be limited at first, and diners can use QR codes to view the menu and place their orders instead of traditional menus. 

“We want to reopen the right way,” said Kelley. “By placing health and safety as a top priority, we think we have created a compelling option to our guests to make that choice in a safe way.” 

As coronavirus cases in the United States exceed 3.3 million, Massachusetts is seeing declines. The state has seen a total of 111,000 confirmed cases and 8,325 deaths.

For the town of Springfield, the reopening is welcome news. MGM Springfield opened in August of 2018 and in just two years, the casino has become a key part of the local economy. It employs about 2,500 workers, and makes up 3.8% of the city’s $730 million budget. 

“You can see there has been a huge dip in hotel revenues, meal revenues … plus the jobs. We had about 2,500 jobs that went by the wayside,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. 

About 700 employees will return to work initially, with others being phased back slowly.

“It’s very good to get them back on board,” said Sarno.

Amid coronavirus shutdowns, MGM’s first-quarter revenue dropped 29%. MGM said it expects second-quarter revenue to be even “more significantly” impacted.

“The spread of Covid-19 and developments surrounding the global pandemic have had, and we expect will continue to have, a significant impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition,” the company stated.

To help with the cash crunch, Sarno said that Springfield is working with the company to delay tax payments. MGM Springfield pays about $100 million annually in local taxes.

The casino brings more than 6 million visitors to the area, driving business for local restaurants and hotels. 

“This is a new normal right now, but we look forward to getting back to that new normal,” said Sarno.

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