ATLANTIC CITY — For the first time in more than a year, a sense of normalcy is returning to the resort.
Beginning Friday, just in time for Memorial Day weekend, masks will no longer be required indoors for fully vaccinated people and social distancing rules will end in New Jersey for retail businesses, food and beverage establishments and casinos.
With the COVID-19 restrictions lifted, officials from the city’s nine casinos are more than ready to welcome guests back to the resort and begin mending the financial wound the industry suffered due to the pandemic.
All of Atlantic City’s casinos were forced to shut down from March to early July 2020, with health and safety restrictions gradually being phased out since.
“This is great, we’ve been waiting for this,” said Terry Glebocki, CEO of Ocean Casino Resort. “Memorial Day will be unlike last year, for sure.”
The pandemic was responsible for knocking casino profits down by more than 80%, according to figures released by state gaming regulators.
The resort’s casinos collectively garnered $117.5 million in gross operating profits in 2020, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement. That was down from nearly $594 million a year earlier.
Noel Stevenson, spokesperson for Caesars Entertainment, said the newest guidelines from the state will allow the resort to begin healing.
“Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Tropicana are pleased to see the return of indoor events, entertainment, meetings and conventions and more of the amenities our guests expect from our resorts,” Stevenson said. “Gov. Murphy’s most recent order allows us to take a needed step forward in our recovery effort. It will enable us to fully reopen this summer, just in time for Atlantic City’s peak season.”
And the casinos have big plans for the holiday weekend.
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Mayor Marty Small Sr. will perform the annual “unlocking of the ocean” ceremony on the Boardwalk in front of Resorts Casino Hotel at 2 p.m. Small will be joined by Steve Downey, Atlantic City Beach Patrol chief; and Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts.
“As we look ahead to summer 2021, the casino industry provides a unique attraction to our region that benefits all of the region’s surrounding businesses — small or large,” Christina Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said in a news release Wednesday. “The start of summer and the return of events and activities across Atlantic City is not only a win for the city but for the entire South Jersey economy. This momentum is a critical step forward as we begin to rebuild and recover from this devastating pandemic.”
Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, said the casino is ready to move forward from the pandemic while continuing efforts to keep guests and staff safe.
“We are looking forward to turning the page and continuing to expand our offerings as COVID-19 vaccinations and the rate of transmission trend in the right direction,” Lupo said. “These positive metrics have enabled Gov. Murphy to loosen restrictions that will boost the industry and more importantly continue to bring employees back to work.”
Beginning at 6 a.m. Friday, Ocean will return to operating at 100% capacity with all machines and table games.
Additionally, the polycarbonate dividers between table games and slot machines will come down and there will no longer be a restriction on eating and drinking while standing.
And for the first time since 2019, Ocean’s H2Q Beach Club will reopen.
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“This staff at the beach club wasn’t here last summer, so they’re back, which is super exciting,” said Liza Costandino, Ocean’s director of public relations and social media.
Most notably to Glebocki, guests and staff who have been fully vaccinated will be able to go maskless inside the casino.
“I think one of the first things that you will notice is that masks will no longer be required if you’re fully vaccinated,” Glebocki said. “So both team members and guests will be able to lose the masks, which will be very welcomed by a lot.”
Those who are unvaccinated are still strongly encouraged to wear a mask by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although Ocean can’t exactly gauge how many guests it’s expecting for the holiday weekend, Glebocki is confident there will be a hefty turnout.
“Last year was a complete unknown, we had no way of knowing if people were going to be receptive to what we were doing, if they would be comfortable coming out,” Glebocki said. “This year we know. They are coming out. It’s normalcy right? We’re so excited to just be normal.”