It is with great pleasure that I can now confirm the exciting news we have been waiting months to hear. On Wed., May 19, 2021, Atlantic City casinos can finally return to 100% capacity!
Gov. Murphy’s May 4 announcement that effective 5/19/21 Atlantic City casinos and other NJ businesses can resume operating at full capacity
The latest lifting of restrictions supersedes the current 50 percent capacity limits that went into effect on March 19, 2021.
Under the new ruling, casinos, restaurants, stores, salons, barbershops, gyms, pools, amusement facilities, places of worship, and theaters can all operate at 100 percent capacity. However, 6-feet social distancing and mask-wearing regulations will remain in effect.
Additional changes going into effect on May 19 potentially affecting Atlantic City casino properties include the following:
- No limit on the number of people in the same party sitting at the same table (currently capped at eight)
- No limit on the number of people at outdoor gatherings
- 250 persons maximum at catered events and commercial gathering
- 30 percent capacity limit for indoor fixed-seat venues such as large showrooms with 1,000 or more seats
Furthermore, starting Fri, May 14, even before the start of the above-mentioned changes, all of the following will be permitted:
- Socially distanced bar seating
- Restaurant tables and bar seats can be closer than 6 feet apart provided barriers are put in place.
- Buffets can reopen.
Here are Gov. Murphy’s comments about the latest easing of restrictions:
“These are the most aggressive steps we have taken to reopen to date. We have done exactly what we said we would do all along. We have made these decisions on our public health metrics and not on politics.”
How the Atlantic City casinos got to this point
As mentioned in my April 19, 2021 article for NJ Online Casino, “Atlantic City Casinos: What’s Currently Open And What Isn’t,” Gov. Murphy has been very cautious in deciding how much lifting of restrictions to allow. When the casino properties first reopened, he capped attendance at only 25 percent of capacity. Eventually, he raised those limits. But before returning to 100 percent, maximum capacity was set at 35 percent and then at 50 percent.
Timeline of changes
The following timeline recaps the important changes relating to the Atlantic City casinos starting with March 16, 2020, when they were ordered to close, and continuing from the time they reopened last July to the present.
3/16/20: Gov. Murphy ordered all nine Atlantic City casinos to close and to remain closed until further notice.
7/2/20: Atlantic City casinos were permitted to reopen. However, attendance was limited to 25 percent of capacity, with social distancing strictly enforced. In addition, indoor dining and drinking were prohibited, and everyone had to wear a face mask.
9/4/20: Service resumed at indoor bars and restaurants but with the same 25 percent capacity limits and social distancing requirements as outdoor bars and restaurants
11/12/20: Due to a spike in coronavirus cases, all indoor food and beverage service ceased between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. In addition, food and drinks could no longer be served bar-side at any time.
2/5/21: Maximum occupancy for casinos, hotels, and restaurants was increased to 35 percent.
3/19/21: Casino, restaurant, and hotel occupancy limits were increased to 50 percent of capacity. In addition, the previous rule suspending indoor food and beverage between 10 p.m. and 5 p.m. was dropped.
5/29/21: Casino properties will once again be able to operate at 100 percent capacity. But it won’t be quite the same as before the pandemic. Social distancing and mask-wearing are still required.
What the latest changes will mean for players
Soon the Atlantic City casinos will experience the most extensive lessening of the special health and safety restrictions put into place 14 months ago so far. Also, with Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer right around the corner, the latest changes could not occur at a better time.
Because of the pandemic, quality entertainment at the casino resorts had come to a virtual standstill, Now, for the first time since the winter of 2020, the big showrooms that attract some of the top names in the business can reopen their doors. Also, now that free COVID-19 vaccines are readily available and the number of new cases keeps getting smaller, many people who were afraid to come to Atlantic City before will be able to shed their fears.
Gov. Murphy is to be commended for the responsible approach he has taken throughout the pandemic in slowly bringing back the fun activities that have been missing while still maintaining health and safety protocols. As a result, this summer, gamblers and non-gamblers alike will not only want to come to Atlantic City but will find no shortage of ways to enjoy themselves while there.
New restaurants, lounges, and other amenities
Moreover, as Atlantic City continues on its road to recovery, the months ahead look like a win-win for everyone. The players, the casinos, the surrounding community, and the State of New Jersey will all benefit.
Between now and the start of July, in preparation for the predicted big attendance surge, the casinos will be unveiling a variety of new casino restaurants and amenities.
What’s happening at Harrah’s
Harrah’s has so many new openings on tap that to old-timers returning to the resort this summer, it might seem like a different casino!
In fact, a new seafood restaurant, Rum Point, overlooking the bay, has already debuted earlier this month at Harrah’s Resort in the space formerly occupied by Veracruz. For now, the restaurant is open only on Fri. and Sat. evenings, but that may change this summer. A student I tutor online who works there as a line cook told me that on the first two days of operation, it had 200 covers each day.
Besides Rum Point, other new openings expected at Harrah’s soon include all of the following:
- a first-class spa adjacent to The Pool.
- The Lobby Bar: an expanded and upgraded bar experience
- The Baywalk–an outdoor bar with dining and live music.
- A new dining and nightlife experience at The Pool.
Harrah’s expects to have all of these amenities open by Memorial Day Weekend.
What’s happening at other Atlantic City casinos
Meanwhile, if you want to have dinner at Bobby Flay Steak at the Borgata, make your reservation soon. After June 30, a new restaurant will open its place. NJ Online Casino will tell you more about the new restaurant when the details become available.
Bally’s Atlantic City, now under the ownership of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, is another casino property where we anticipate big changes. The Beach Bar, offering drinks, food, and music, will be open on weekends starting May 21. Then, starting on June 1, the Beach Bar will open at 11 a.m. daily. Chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas will be offered for rental.
The pool and health club have not opened yet but should be ready soon. Also, sometime this summer, a branch of the Ventnor-based restaurant Water Dog will replace Bucca di Peppo on the 6th floor.
The above is just a small sample of some of the exciting new amenities you will be able to enjoy this summer at the Atlantic City casinos. But one of the most important additions will be lots of wonderful entertainment options. All of the casinos are busy putting together an outstanding lineup of summer and fall entertainment. So, be sure to check the individual casinos of your choice to see what is happening when. Then grab your tickets before these shows are sold out.