The Casino File: Atlantic City, Pennsylvania casinos welcome the return of indoor dining; are headliners headed back?
Atlantic City’s nine gambling dens will take another step towards normalcy Friday (Sept. 4) as indoor dining operations resume after the coronavirus pandemic caused their shutdown almost six months ago. However, like all Garden State restaurants, the gambling hall eateries will operate under strict state-mandated guidelines including:
Maximum 25-percent occupancy.
Tables and groups at bars must be a minimum six feet apart.
Regular disinfecting of chairs, tables and menus is required, as are daily health screenings for staff.
Patrons are required to wear masks when not in their seats and while waiting for their food to be served.
Groups are limited to eight people, except for immediate families. Groups of no more than four are permitted at bars.
Self-service entities (e.g. buffets and salad bars) are prohibited.
Signage must warn that customers showing any signs of the virus won’t be admitted.
Staff must remain masked at all times.
Windows (where applicable) must be fully open and air conditioning must be set for maximum ventilation.
Despite these conditions (and the effort that will be needed to ensure they are met), AyCee casino execs are no doubt happy to welcome guests to their dining rooms; since Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa opened in July 2003 with a roster of celebrity-chef operations, dining—especially of the upscale type--has been a crucial part of the local gaming industry’s marketing strategy. It’s so important to Borgata that, when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy rescinded his earlier decision to allow indoor dining beginning July 2, the Big B didn’t even bother opening for another three weeks.
When it did welcome back the public, it did so with two outdoor food outlets, Sunbar at The Water Club and Borgata Street Eats. Both have been closed, but all the property’s indoor mainstays—including Bobby Flay Steak, Old Homestead Steakhouse, Angeline by Michael Symon and Izakaya by Michael Schulson, are expected to be up and running Friday evening.
As for the other casinos, most are expected to have both indoor and outdoor operations. It is suggested that the public check the individual websites for updates on what is open.
What about entertainment?
Besides gambling and dining, headliner programs have been an Atlantic City hallmark since the dawn of the legal-casino era. And since New Jersey has also okey-dokeyed the reopening of entertainment venues, it’s logical to wonder if big-name performers are on their way back.
There has been no official pronouncements from any AyCee gaming hall, and it’s doubtful there will be anytime soon, as far as public performances are concerned: The state maximum on audience size is a mere 150 people, which is certainly not enough to pay A-list acts (at least not without a $1,000-per-ticket admission fee). But that doesn’t mean show biz giants will definitely remain absent from the scene until the pandemic is behind us.
It wouldn’t be too surprising if a top-tier property – Borgata or Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City for instance – brings in a superstar or two for invitation-only gigs attended by their top 75 players and their guests. What such “whales” might potentially drop at the tables and slot machines may make such events feasible.
Select indoor dining will also be back at Rivers Casino Philadelphia when Jack’s Bar + Grill and Mian reopen on Sept. 8. The former is a casual-American-menu operation; the latter features quick-service Asian fare. Alcohol will be served in both, but drinks must be consumed there. In addition, the two restaurants must, of course, adhere to state guidelines.
“We're thrilled to expand our offerings at Rivers with the reopening of two fantastic restaurants,” said Pete Longi, Rivers’ Casino Philadelphia interim general manager. “Guests can now enjoy great food, their favorite slots and games, and free parking all in the same trip.”
The Casino File will appear Fridays and when news breaks. Chuck Darrow is Bettors Insider’s Casino Lifestyle Editor.