BATAVIA — With the news that casinos and video lottery terminals can reopen Wednesday, Batavia Downs Gaming wasted no time in applauding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement.
Employees are set to start returning today as the facility prepares to welcome the public again after a six-month absence.
“We are appreciative of the governor’s announcement,” said President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek of Batavia Downs. “We are now able to put back to work over 400 hardworking Western New Yorkers and again provide a safe, secure entertainment environment for our loyal guests.”
New York casinos and video lottery terminals can reopen with limited occupancy starting next week, Cuomo announced Thursday.
The betting and gaming facilities will have a 25% occupancy limit. They have remained closed since the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic first ravaged the state in mid-March.
“We’ve made the determination that we can safely reopen casinos with enhanced air filtration and strict safety protocols including mandatory masks and social distancing,” Cuomo said. “This is good news and the right next step in our data-driven, phased reopening which is working.”
Patrons and staff must wear face coverings except when eating or drinking and remain socially distanced, or 6 feet apart, at all times.
Table games are not permitted unless a casino installs physical barriers between players, which must be approved by the state Gaming Commission.
“The state Gaming Commission will be monitoring that,” Cuomo said during a call with reporters Thursday. “... While this pandemic is far from over, our numbers have remained steadily low, so we know our phased, data-driven approach to reopening is the right one.”
No food or beverage service will be allowed on the gaming floor, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Operating machines must be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
The state requires casinos that choose to reopen to have an enhanced air filtration system with a qualified MERV-13 rating or higher filter to cleanse COVID-19 virus particles from the air.
All venues will be required to follow the state’s safety protocols, including additional staff to control occupancy, traffic flow, crowding and enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures.
The Gaming Commission will monitor casinos and ensure strict enforcement of the state’s safety protocols.
Batavia Downs was already embarking on another deep cleaning and sanitization of the gaming floor and restaurants, Wojtaszek said.
Upon reopening, Batavia Downs will meet or exceed the state’s guidelines for cleanliness and safety, he said. The venue will increase the rigor of cleaning and sanitizing procedures throughout the facility.
It will also increase the number of shifts and hours of its environmental service team to maintain the desired level of cleanliness upon reopening. More than 120 hand sanitizing stations will be located on the gaming floor, horse wagering areas, event spaces and in all of its restaurants.
The venue is excited to reopen, Wojtaszek said.
The facility is still awaiting official state guidelines but it has likewise already installed plexiglass and taken other measures such as placing proper distancing information on the floors.
Most of the steps are precautions they’ve already been talking about with state agencies since March.
“It’s a very exciting day and everybody’s very much looking forward to getting back to work,” Wojtaszek said. “ ... We intend to bring back the entire staff at this point. It just depends on what the guidelines allow us to do, so we will reserve the ability to adjust depending on the guidelines.”
In other matters, New York City malls will also reopen with a 50% occupancy limit on Wednesday.
Malls that reopen must follow the state’s mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols, as other malls have that reopened in July across New York’s other nine regions.
No indoor food courts are permitted.
“New Yorkers have done an extraordinary job — we flattened the curve in a way that no expert thought was possible,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers, we are at a point in our fight against this virus where we can safely reopen malls in New York City as long as they adhere to strict health and safety protocols.”
Similar to casinos, the state requires city malls to have additional staff on premises to control occupancy, traffic flow and seating to avoid crowds or loitering groups.
To reopen, malls must also have an enhanced filter installed to meet the state’s air filtration, ventilation and purification standards.
“Masks, enhanced air ventilation systems, and social distancing will be mandatory,” the governor said. “This is good news and the right step forward.”
Last month, the governor said officials in the state’s coronavirus task force are working on guidance to safely reopen New York’s movie theaters, which remain closed. Movie theaters were not discussed during Thursday’s briefing.
Includes reporting by Brian Quinn and Matt Surtel