Casinos reopen with social distancing guidelines

Charles Molineaux
Updated: September 09, 2020 06:54 PM
Created: September 09, 2020 06:20 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Operators of Rochester-area casinos celebrated their emergence from coronavirus as they reopened on Wednesday.

Gamblers celebrated too.

“It’s been five and a half months,” exclaimed Don Hartung of Rochester, a self-professed regular at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, and one of the first to reenter. “I have been just staying home, cooped up, doing work around the house. I can do that anytime. I am happy they opened up.”

Upstate New York’s four privately owned casinos were permitted to resume operations on Sept. 9, with extensive restrictions.  

“We are just happy to open,” said Steven Martin, marketing director at Finger Lakes. “It’s been a long wait, sure, but the most important thing is… We are here.”

Conditions for gambling to resume include temperature checks, face masks and Plexiglas shields.  Across the gaming floors, machines have been deactivated to allow for social distancing. No food or drinks are permitted on the gaming floor.

And the casinos may only operate a 25% of capacity. Batavia Downs president Henry Wojtasczek says that low number was a shock but something the casino can work with, at least for now.

“At this number, we can at least pay our bills and help get some money to the municipalities," Wojtasczek said. "But we have been told that they will be looking at the numbers and looking at the cases throughout the state.”

With the gaming floor slightly less than 25% occupied on Wednesday, Wojtasczek said the turnout was close to normal for a pre-pandemic weekday but he anticipated the limitations could begin to chafe come the weekend.

“Friday and Saturday nights are very, very busy,” he explained.  “And so, obviously, we won’t be able to maintain the level, the amount of people that we want… We certainly will have lines, people waiting.“

At Batavia downs, more than 400 of the casino’s 470 employees are back on the job including a larger-than-normal number of 25 on the floor to do cleaning and sanitizing as gamblers move between machines.

Don Hartung insisted he came in with plenty of confidence in his safety.

“I’ve been keeping my distance,” he declared. “You go to the store, you have to keep your distance from everybody and wash your hands. That’s all I’ve been doing. I feel great. I haven’t been sick or anything. I’m looking forward to playing the machines.”

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