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Massachusetts Forces Casinos To Close Early In Response To COVID-19

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Massachusetts casinos are now required to close by 9:30 PM per a Gaming Commission mandate.
  • The curfew is purportedly to help control the spread of COVID-19
  • Little evidence exists that business curfews are an effective way to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission enacted new COVID-19 restrictions that will force the state’s three casinos to close by 9:30 PM every night for an indeterminate amount of time. This decision came after Governor Charlie Baker approved new restrictions that include a ‘no exemptions’ face covering mandate meaning that masks must be worn both inside and outside. Never mind the fact that infectious disease experts–you know, actual doctors and scientists–don’t see the point such as Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School:

“Masks are an important prevention tool when we’re close to other people, especially indoors, but there’s really no reason to be wearing a mask when you’re outdoors and you’re not close to anyone.”

“And arbitrary public health rules are a way to break the public’s trust, which is essential to keeping people engaged in public health efforts. I think a mandate like this — that people know is arbitrary — is going to do more to reduce trust than it will to reduce infections.”

And speaking of ‘arbitrary public health rules’ the Boston Herald summed up more of Baker’s latest decree:

One part of the order, a revised stay-at-home advisory, instructs residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except for those going to work, running critical errands, such as going to the grocery store, taking care of health needs and going for a walk.

Liquor stores, retail shops, in-person dining, pot shops, movie theaters, casinos, sports facilities, gyms and other businesses must close to the public at 9:30 p.m. according to the new regulations. Takeout and delivery can continue past that time.

This is a good idea since everyone knows that the COVID-19 virus can tell time and won’t infect anyone before 10 PM Eastern Time. I’m kidding of course. Of all the many arbitrary responses to the coronavirus pandemic curfews–on business activity or on the citizens themselves–are one of the most pointless. Lest they find themselves the subject of punitive action from the Bay State’s massive bureaucracy, the casinos are going along with the nonsense. Wynn Resorts issued a statement concerning their Encore Boston Harbor property:

“Encore Boston Harbor supports and will adhere to the additional directives put forth by the Commonwealth aimed to reduce the ongoing risk to public health. As a result, we are analyzing the impacts of the directives on our resort operations and will adjust accordingly to be in compliance.”

MGM Resorts released a statement saying essentially the same thing in reference to their MGM Springfield property in western Massachusetts.

“We are evaluating the impacts on operations. We are in this together and remain committed to the health and safety of our guests, employees and the overall wellbeing of the state.”

So far no comment from Penn National Gaming, owners of the Plainridge Park Casino/Harness Racing track.

The casinos have no choice to go along with these mandates. It’s unclear how law enforcement will deal with the stay at home order…er….’advisory’…since all a scofflaw would need to do is to say that they’re ‘out for a walk’. As REASON Magazine observed earlier in our current national crisis business curfews are a bad idea that doesn’t really do anything to slow the spread of coronavirus. Unfortunately, politicians are more concerned with doing *something* no matter how ineffective and arbitrary it might be. Such was the case when California Governor Gavin Newsom tried to close beaches for..uh…’reasons’:

Business curfews amount mostly to an attempt to “do something,” even if that something flouts science and common sense. Brown and Bullock aren’t alone in that. Gov. Gavin Newsom shuttered beaches in Orange County, California, for instance, after some photos seemed to show the area crawling with sun-drunk beachgoers. That decision contradicts the wealth of infectious disease experts who say that such outdoor spaces are adequately safe—and beneficial to our mental health—if social distancing guidelines are enforced. 

Baker has been called out for other arbitrary decisions that defy common sense–such as allowing casinos to reopen while keeping video arcades closed. In response to yet another senseless COVID-19 curfew, REASON Magazine made the obvious point that forcing businesses to close early simply compresses the commercial day. This, in turn, will force more people into the business into a shorter span of time which means more people inside in close quarters. Translation–it has a negative impact on social distancing which is supposedly the point of all of this:

Compressing the commercial day will mean more people shopping together in close quarters. The smart play until now among germaphobes has been hitting up the local Rite Aid in the wee small hours. Mayors, county executives, and governors are increasingly foreclosing that option.

It hurts my brain to try and rationalize a rule that infers that casino gambling is a perfectly safe activity at 8:00 PM but at 10:00 PM turns into a threat to public health. Not that there’s any logic behind it or any of Baker’s other arbitrary pronouncements. Harvard’s Julia Marcus came up with a great analogy:

“It’s a bit like saying we’re going to ask people to wear condoms when they’re masturbating, because we think it’s going to get them to wear a condom when they’re with another person.”

REASON Magazine summed it up well:

The coronavirus response should be guided by science and reason, and it should give people the greatest flexibility possible to act in accordance with basic social distancing measures. These curfews do neither.

The gaming industry already has taken a hard hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. They don’t need to suffer additional economic damage just because a blowhard politician wants to look like he’s doing ‘something’. The Boston Business Journal reported that up to 1,000 Encore Boston Harbor workers could be furloughed due to the casino curfew. The property has already shut down their hotel for the foreseeable future. The fact that Baker is more concerned about political ‘optics’ than the actual well being of his constituents is unconscionable but sadly typical of how the governing class has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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