Atlantic City casinos welcomed gamblers for the first time in almost four months on Thursday, but the seaside city famous for not enforcing Prohibition couldn't let its guests drink on the casino floors.
The booze ban was one of several state restrictions that casinos complied with to open during the coronavirus pandemic. Gamblers wore masks and were separated by empty seats or acrylic glass partitions. No one could smoke, eat, or drink on the casino floor.
The casinos were limited to 25% capacity, too, but that wasn't a problem. Social distancing was easy, as some customers had entire rows of slots or tables to themselves Thursday morning at Hard Rock Hotel Casino. There was hardly any talking among mesmerized slot machine players.
"Obviously it will be lighter than normal. This is usually a busy weekend," said Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock in Atlantic City. "I think people are going to try it out, test us out, see what it's like."
Hard Rock checked customers' temperatures as they entered, installed 200 hand sanitizer dispensers, and hired a Gene Simmons impersonator who wore a mask that prevented him from sticking out the iconic tongue.
Five of the city's nine casinos -- Hard Rock, Ocean, Resorts, Tropicana, and Golden Nugget -- opened Thursday. Three more -- Caesars, Bally's and Harrah's -- will open Friday. Borgata, the city's market leader, will stay closed. Borgata reversed plans to reopen after Gov. Phil Murphy canceled permission to allow indoor dining, further disrupting an industry that has seen its revenues plummet during the pandemic.
The other casinos offered outdoor dining and takeout options. Ocean Casino Resort, for example, allowed the Mad Dog Morgans food truck to sell its buffalo tenders, cheesesteaks, and burgers outside its entrance.
Ocean also had a mobile bar set up outside in a food truck. So patrons could load up and carry open containers onto most of the Boardwalk, thanks to a temporary measure the city passed for the pandemic.
Terrell Carter, 23, and his girlfriend, Jessica Dansereau, 21, had already booked their trip to Atlantic City when they heard the indoor meals were put on ice. But they were still glad they came all the way from North Providence, R.I., to celebrate Carter's birthday in Hard Rock.
"A lot of things are closed. We were kind of discouraged yesterday," Dansereau said. "Today it's more lively and a lot more things are open."