The decisions by New York and California’s governors to lift virtually all restrictions last month were the strongest indications yet that a return to real normality is within our collective grasp. Yet although the announcements came in June, it has still taken time for both businesses and their customers to fully embrace these newly rediscovered freedoms.
Ultimately, it is down to individual businesses to decide how they wish to operate. Some people, be they employees or patrons, are still concerned about transmission rates. Businesses and places of worship need to be sensitive to this and must have an understanding of mood and sentiment among the people that matter before they lift all restrictions.
It’s back to normal for Jake’s 58
One business that is happy to put the recent problems behind it and look to a normal future is Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, Long Island. It officially returned to full capacity last Friday, ready for what it hoped and expected to be the best weekend of business since early 2020.
The casino had been operating at reduced capacity for more than nine months since reopening after full lockdown last year. However, the New York State Gaming Commission confirmed that it is now free to lift these restrictions in line with the relaxations to regulations outlined by Governor Cuomo last month. This means all terminals and gaming tables will be open, social distancing and mask rules relaxed and the remaining 42 employees still on furlough welcomed back to work.
Showing people a good time
Michael Bonakdar is the General Manager at Jake’s 58 and he said that returning to capacity would “bring back a special level of excitement” for casino goers and that he couldn’t wait to show guests a good time without constraints or restrictions.
His comments are more than just marketing spiel, and they demonstrate a real problem that has afflicted casinos over the months of restricted operations. This is a market segment that is under increasing pressure from online competition. When land-based casinos shut down entirely last year, customers were inevitably drawn to the online alternatives, and getting them back is no foregone conclusion.
Pragmatically speaking, there are plenty of advantages to playing online, including convenience, better choice of games, generous promos and the fact that online casinos can afford to operate at lower margins and therefore pay out more.
Against all those factors, the one thing land-based casinos have in their favor is the atmosphere. Yet this is drastically compromised when players are wearing masks, keeping their distance and can only play certain games.
Tuning in to customer demand
With this in mind, we can see why lifting restrictions in casinos like Jake’s 58 is such a big deal. But operators are right to proceed with caution. Ryan D of HeadlineCasinos made a pertinent point when he commented: “Players are still not back in the groove. There is still angst about spending extended time in enclosed spaces. This will take time as people adjust to Jake 58 working at full capacity.”
In other words, we should not expect the masks and plexiglass to disappear from every casino in New York, California and across the USA at a single stroke. Both businesses and the customers they serve have already seen too many false dawns during the course of this crisis to start burning masks and dancing in the streets just yet. Other casino businesses will be desperate to return to normal like Jake’s 58, however, so you can bet your bottom dollar they will be watching how things transpire in Islandia like hawks.
Pushing vaccine numbers
Back in the Governor’s office, Cuomo is looking to take full advantage of the greater sense of optimism that’s in the air in order to push as many of the remaining 30 percent over the line as possible and head towards 100 percent vaccination. He’ll be as aware as anyone of what happened last year and that the real test of whether we are truly out of the woods will come when winter rolls around. In his latest press release, he reminded New Yorkers that the work is not yet over and added: “We need every single New Yorker to get vaccinated.”
Cuomo has also introduced 12 new pop-up vaccination sites in areas where ZIP code data shows lower levels of vaccination, including one on Long Island not far from Jake’s 58. He told reporters: “We are doubling down on targeting the ZIP codes where the vaccination rate still remains very low, and these new pop-up sites are a testament to our ongoing commitment to make sure the vaccine is available and accessible to every community.”
So far, Cuomo’s passionate rallying calls combined with a demonstrable will to return to normal have proved effective. Still, there are critical weeks to come, and it is not just the casino industry that will be watching developments closely.