Inside the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, Pa. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Sept. 2, auctioned off a mini-casino license that was previously denied to Mount Airy for a facility near Pittsburgh, Pa. Monica Cabrera/The Morning Call/TNS

ALBANY — New York casinos and video lottery terminals can reopen with limited occupancy starting next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday,

Casinos and video lottery terminal facilities can reopen Sept. 9, with a 25% occupancy limit. The betting and gaming facilities have remained closed since the coronavirus pandemic first ravaged the state in mid-March.

“We’ve made the determination that we can safely reopen casinos with enhanced air filtration and strict safety protocols including mandatory masks and social distancing,” Cuomo said. “This is good news and the right next step in our data-driven, phased reopening which is working.”

Patrons and staff must wear face coverings except when eating or drinking and maintain social distancing, or six feet apart, at all times.

Table games are not permitted unless a casino installs physical barriers between players, which must be approved by the state Gaming Commission.

“The state Gaming Commission will be monitoring that,” Cuomo said during a call with reporters Thursday. “... While this pandemic is far from over, our numbers have remained steadily low, so we know our phased, data-driven approach to reopening is the right one.”

No food or beverage service will be allowed on the gaming floor, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Operating machines must be spaced at least six feet apart.

The state requires casinos that choose to reopen to have an enhanced air filtration system with a qualified MERV-13 rating or higher filter to cleanse COVID-19 virus particles from the air.

All venues will be required to follow the state’s safety protocols, including additional staff to control occupancy, traffic flow, crowding and enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures.

The Gaming Commission will monitor casinos and ensure strict enforcement of the state’s safety protocols.

New York City malls will also reopen with a 50% occupancy limit starting Sept. 9. Malls that reopen must follow the state’s mask wearing and social distancing protocols, as other malls have that reopened in July across New York’s other nine regions. No indoor food courts are permitted.

“New Yorkers have done an extraordinary job — we flattened the curve in a way that no expert thought was possible,” Cuomo said Thursday. “Thanks to the hard work of New Yorkers, we are at a point in our fight against this virus where we can safely reopen malls in New York City as long as they adhere to strict health and safety protocols.”

Similar to casinos, the state requires city malls to have additional staff on premises to control occupancy, traffic flow and seating to avoid crowds or loitering groups.

To reopen, malls must also have an enhanced filter installed to meet the state’s air filtration, ventilation and purification standards.

“Masks, enhanced air ventilation systems and social distancing will be mandatory,” the governor said. “This is good news and the right step forward.”

Last month, the governor said officials in the state’s coronavirus task force are working on guidance to safely reopen New York’s movie theaters, which remain closed. Movie theaters were not discussed during Thursday’s briefing.

Indoor dining remains prohibited in New York City, where the State Liquor Authority and state police continue to issue violations to bars and restaurants for establishments not enforcing the state’s mask wearing and social distancing mandates.

The enforcement task force visited 900 establishments statewide Wednesday and issued violations to seven downstate businesses, including two in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and four in Suffolk County on Long Island.

Earlier this week, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said city restaurants should be allowed to resume indoor dining.

“That’s not a decision that’s going to be made by New York City,” Cuomo said. “They have no legal authority to make that decision. The state will make that decision.”

Cuomo agrees with the speaker, he said Thursday, adding he wants to reopen the city’s establishments to allow patrons to eat inside, but remains concerned about enforcement of the state’s safety measures as compliance continues to be an issue for downstate bars and restaurants.

New York City restaurants could reopen if the city dedicates a few thousand New York Police Department deputies on a task force to monitor compliance, the governor said, adding state resources are thin as all agencies have deployed investigators to assist with enforcing COVID-19 orders in bars and restaurants.

“...The facts with what has happened on bars are damning,” Cuomo said. “I had beseeched New York City to do a better job on compliance and enforcement ... We now open restaurants, that’s going to complicate by the hundreds, if not thousands, the number of establishments that have to be monitored.

“I don’t have any more state resources to do it,” he added. “...Speaker Johnson, his opinion is they should open; my opinion is they should open. The question is how?”

The governor requested the state Restaurant Association suggest how city diners could safely eat indoors as the pandemic continues.

“Come up with a plan — akin to schools; we have a great plan,” Cuomo said. “The plan is only as good as your ability to enforce it and right now, we have no ability to enforce it.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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