Spike in COVID-19 Cases Pushes Back Detroit Casino Reopenings

Michigan’s COVID-19 situation is too unstable to reopen Detroit casinos right now. State officials told Michigan Casino Review Bank they want to see the numbers at least stabilize, if not drop, before opening the doors in Detroit.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like there’s a problem. On July 25, the state reported only 12 confirmed cases, after seeing 82 the day before. It’s been almost two weeks since the number of daily new cases rose above 500. But Michigan’s problem is that the numbers don’t stay this way for long.

Since May 19, we’ve seen a pattern emerge. The numbers drop, then rise again two weeks later. We’re in a low period, but officials are concerned that unless something changes, another spike of new cases is on the way. 

“The Detroit casinos will remain closed until deemed safe to reopen under the MI Safe Start Plan,” said Mary Kay Bean, communications specialist for the Michigan Gaming Control Board. 

Bean directed Michigan Casino Review Bank to Governor Whitmer’s website, where the Safe Start Plan is outlined. She also said a final decision on reopening wouldn’t be up to the board. Instead, that would be a call made by the governor. For other questions about casino reopenings, we were directed to Gov. Whitmer’s press office. 

Detroit Casinos Depend On A Safe Start

Michigan has a six-step reopening plan. Unfortunately for Detroit casinos, the state is still in Phase Four and they can’t reopen until Phase Five begins. Originally, the plan was to be in Phase Five by July 4, but that didn’t work out.

As mentioned earlier, the state has been stuck in a cycle, when it comes to new COVID-19 cases. Right before the holiday, Michigan saw an increase in cases. As a result, Gov. Whitmer announced the majority of the state would remain in Phase Four a bit longer.

The Upper Peninsula and the Traverse City region are different. Cases in those regions are dropping on a regular basis, so they’ve moved forward to Phase Five. That doesn’t help Detroit casinos, however. The governor’s office directed Michigan Casino Review Bank to a series of press releases on her website, after being asked when the rest of the state could move to Phase Five. 

Specifically, they pointed to the MI Safe Start Plan, just like the Michigan Gaming Control Board. In the plan, it says a region can’t move to the next step until there are “continued case and death rate improvements and outbreaks can be quickly contained.”

Basically, Detroit, Wayne County, and the surrounding region need to see a steady decline in the number of new cases before those doors open. 

Why Not Reopen In Phase Four? 

Phase Four only allows “lower-risk businesses” to reopen. That means companies like restaurants and small businesses where you can severely limit the number of people allowed inside. So if these shops can reopen, why can’t casinos? There are two issues here.

First, it takes a lot to open a casino. You need a certain number of employees and enough guests to make it profitable. It doesn’t help the casinos if they reopen, but are severely restricted. If they can only bring in 25 to 35 people at a time, that limits the revenue potential At that point, you have to question if it makes more financial sense to stay closed, at least temporarily. After all, casinos have taken a huge hit already thanks to the shutdown. 

According to data from the Michigan Gaming Control Board, the combined revenue for Detroit’s casinos fell 59.3 percent through June 30, compared to the same six months in 2019. In 2019, the casinos reported $735.4 million in the first six months. That’s $436.2 million more than in 2020.

So far this year, casinos pulled in $299.2 million. It’s been an issue for all three operations. MGM Detroit reported $126.5 million instead of last year’s $315.1 million. Motor City Casino, meanwhile, lost more than $100 million, falling to $102.6 million instead of last year’s $250.5 million. At Greektown, the data shows the casino brought in $70.1 million so far this year. At the same point in 2019, they reported $169.8 million. 

Setting A Path Forward

Casinos said they’re prepared to welcome customers back, whenever the word is given. We were directed by MGM Detroit to their website, which says “when permitted, we [will be] excited to reopen with enhanced protocols for guest and employee health and safety.” That’s done through a seven-point safety plan, the same one used at multiple Colorado operations this year. It’s the same one we covered here for Colorado Sharp earlier this month. We reached out to both Greektown and the Motor City Casino but did not hear back by press time.

About the Author

Brian Carlton

Brian Carlton is an award-winning journalist who has covered casinos, the gaming, and finance industries for more than a decade. His work has been published by the BBC and a variety of newspapers across the U.S. He currently writes for Colorado Sharp and Bonus.com.