Mayor: Detroit Casinos Will Not Fully Reopen Until There Is COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted on May 6, 2020

One Upper Peninsula tribal casino pulled a bait-and-switch this week about reopening, as Island Resort & Casino now targets gaming on May 16 instead of Wednesday.

But the implication that a casino even considered taking bets this week in one of the states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic was an overall good sign. Michigan casinos have all been closed since March 22.

Comments from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan published late Tuesday were less optimistic about the plight of Detroit’s Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino.

Duggan told The Detroit News that Detroit casinos wouldn’t fully reopen until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting several months of smaller capacities in the venues when they do reopen.

Duggan said regular life won’t resume for a while

The comments from Duggan came in a piece from columnist Nolan Finley, which also featured a video of the interview.

In the video, Duggan cautioned that despite positive trends about reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in Michigan and Detroit, residents should get used to the current way of life.

Until there is a vaccine, that is.

“Where we are today is where we’re going to be in September and is likely to be where we are in January,” Duggan said. “The coronavirus is all through southeastern Michigan, and it’s not going to be gone until a vaccine is developed.

“So, what we have to do is try to live every day with it in a way that we are careful not to spread it in a rapid manner.”

Duggan ‘confident’ Whitmer will make the right call

Getting outdoor construction workers back on the job and patients back into hospitals for non-COVID treatments were among the priorities Duggan discussed in the interview.

Restaurants, movie theaters and casinos were among a future set of priorities, Duggan said.

The mayor noted the reopening timelines could match up with the expiration of the latest order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which extended the emergency declaration through May 28.

“Is there going to be a point in a month or two where you could have a quarter of the tables open in a restaurant? Maybe,” Duggan said.

Duggan deferred there to Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, saying he’s “confident” the governor will make the right call.

Whitmer is fighting battles in Lansing with Republican legislators who unveiled a lawsuit against her Wednesday challenging her powers.

Mayor: Casinos might operate at 25%30% capacity

Duggan went on to say he envisions a world where casinos will operate at a low capacity until the unveiling of a vaccine, which is likely several months down the road.

“The opening of the entertainment sector and casinos is going to depend on the development of the anti-virals, the development of a vaccine and things that are outside our control,” Duggan said. “I would be surprised if a vaccine is developed in this country within a year.”

Duggan speculated Detroit’s casinos might not be even half full for many months.

“Do the casinos end up opening at 25%-30% capacity? I don’t know,” he said. “Those are things for the governor to evaluate based on medical advice when the time comes.

“I’m not going to push for anything to be done before it’s medically safe.”

The mayor said it might be a “few months” before casinos even get customers in the door.

“My guess is, in a few months, you’ll see restaurants, you’ll see casinos, you may even see movie theaters operating at 25% or 30% capacity with real social distancing restrictions, but that’s a little ways down the road.”

Casinos a major economic engine for Detroit

Detroit casinos reported adjusted gross receipts of $1.45 billion in 2019, netting the city over $184 million and the state more than $117 million in tax revenue.

With a 6.7% increase in January and February revenue for the casinos this year compared to the same period a year ago, a strong 2020 was expected.

The News reported that revenue from the casinos made up 20% of Detroit’s general fund.

“We set aside a lot of money for a downturn,” Duggan said. “But if we get to the end of the year and the economy is not coming back, then there’s going to be serious cuts to be made.”

The state’s 23 tribal casinos are not under Whitmer’s authority, but all are voluntarily closed during the pandemic.

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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