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Gambling during a pandemic

Gambling during a pandemic

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In anticipation of the Atlantic City casinos reopening, I was curious what it would be like to visit a casino during the COVID-19 pandemic. Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack — “just down the road” in Pennsylvania’s Delaware County — reopened at 50 percent capacity last week. I paid a brief visit opening day.

Entering through the self-park garage — there is no longer valet service at this point — I took the elevator up to the casino floor. There were four disks on the floor indicating I should “social distance” should anyone else be in the car, but there was no one to enforce it.

Following signs to a line directing me to the one designated entrance, at the end I was immediately confronted by members of the security team who scanned my temperature.

Everyone — customers and employees — must wear a mask. Guests arriving without a mask were given the option of a complimentary mask, courtesy of the casino, or leaving.

This was reassuring because experts now are claiming that the coronavirus is more likely to be spread by coughs — and even simple conversation — than from touching surfaces.

Masks worn in the casino may be removed in order to smoke or consume a beverage, but watchful security guards patrol the casinos reminding everyone who temporarily removed their masks to put them back in place.

Evidence of upgraded sanitization and disinfecting procedures was all around. Hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes – and reminders to use them – were everywhere, as were notices to social distance and thoroughly wash your hands every 20 minutes.

Every other slot machine was disabled and, depending on the game, fewer individuals were allowed to play roulette, blackjack, craps and other table games.

The Poker Room, Topgolf and the gift shop were closed. And even the bathrooms had every other sink blocked, along with that social distancing reminder on the floor in front of them.

At one of the two open restaurants – in this case, Guy Fieri’s Philly Kitchen + Bar – guests were seated throughout the room in order to honor the six-foot social distancing rules. Once seated, I was allowed to remove my mask.

Preset at each place on the tables was a plastic knife and fork set atop a paper napkin. Even the one-page two-sided menu was disposable.

After I ordered my hamburger, individual packets of salt, pepper, ketchup and mustard (as well as extra napkins) arrived, delivered by my gloved and masked server. I’m not sure how useful that plastic knife would be had I ordered the New York strip steak.

All beverages – whether on the casino floor or in the restaurants – are served in plastic cups.

Asked whether they had any anxieties about returning to casinos under the current circumstances, those players who chose to respond basically replied, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

Recreational gambler Darryl D. McEwen, a former professional journalist, is president of his own consulting firm that manages several small national and international trade associations, and provides public relations and fundraising services for a number of charitable organizations. Have a comment on this or a question specifically related to an Atlantic City casino, players club or other promotion? Email Darryl at and he’ll try to respond to you personally. Your question – without your name – may appear in a future column. Visit his website,, and follow him on Twitter @MrACCasino. Your question — without your name — may appear in a future column.

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