NORTHFIELD VILLAGE — MGM Northfield Park is reopened for business, but it will likely take time to rebuild business to what it was prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.
"The crowds weren’t real heavy," said Village Council President Nicholas Magistrelli on July 9, following a visit earlier in the week. "People are still, I would think they’re a little nervous yet to get into that kind of crowd. But as you walk in, you can see they weren’t overcrowding."
Magistrelli added that the crowds are smaller than what they typically were before the shutdown, but this is to be expected.
"People are going to gradually get comfortable as we get this under control," he said.
MGM Resorts International, MGM Northfield Park’s Las Vegas-based owner, reopened to the public on June 20, the same day the Northfield Park harness racing track adjacent to the casino and entertainment venue and under the same management began allowing racing spectators again.
"We are so happy to welcome back our MGM Northfield Park guests and employees," Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts International acting CEO and president, said in June. "As with our other resort reopenings, health and safety remain a top priority in every phase of our plan. We look forward to providing a safe and fun environment for everyone to enjoy our gaming, restaurant and horse racing amenities."
Mayor Jesse Nehez did not return phone calls seeking comment. Village Law Director Brad Bryan said he is pleased by the reopening.
"It’s great," he said. "We’re happy they’re reopened. … Because of the distancing restrictions, I think they’re restricted as far as capacity and still not able to have concerts. We’re glad they’re back in there and it’s generating revenue for the village again, but still a significant reduction in revenue for the village."
Village revenue nosedives
While solid figures are not available, the layoff of nearly 1,000 employees at the gaming venue has likely had a substantial impact on village income tax receipts.
The workers had been laid off after the state closed nonessential businesses in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Village Finance Director Jennifer Potvin said Friday that she does not have revenue figures specific to Northfield Park, but she noted revenue had dropped by more than two thirds following the shutdown.
She said income tax receipts for April and May, which were reported in May and June, was about $335,000 this year compared to about $1.11 million for the same period last year.
Potvin said these numbers are "fluid" because she is still closing out the financial books for June. She also said that in terms of revenue, "We started the year strong."
Village officials had anticipated the drop in revenue, cutting 2020 budget appropriations by around $4.5 million in March, from $14.95 million to $10.44 million.
To make up for the cut, several large capital improvement projects were put on hold, including a fire station expansion and renovation, the reconstruction of Coventry Road and a water main replacement on Victory Boulevard. Other non-essential expenditures were also cut, but Magistrelli said he is pleased that they did not include layoffs.
Bryan said that during the shutdown, there were far fewer police and fire calls at the facility, but the village has kept staff on board.
"As far as cuts for police and fire, we haven’t made any cuts in employees or services," he said.
However, EMS personnel who had been stationed at Northfield Park were not working during the shutdown. MGM reimburses the village for those staffers, who are not part of the regular fire station staffing.
MGM Resorts International said it has initiated a "Seven-Point Safety Plan" at all its properties.
"It’s really a layered approach that we worked with health officials, medical experts, to come up with," said Buckley.
Employee screening, temperature checks and COVID-19 specific training have been implemented. Employees and guests must wear masks in public areas, with masks being provided free of charge.
A physical distancing policy is also enforced in public areas, with floor guides serving as reminders. For areas where physical distancing presents challenges, protective barriers have been installed, or other measures will be used to reduce risks for employees and guests.
Handwashing stations and digital menus are available to view on personal mobile devices via QR codes in restaurants, and guests are notified by text message when their tables are ready.
"We shut down sections of the floor every night for deep cleaning," said Hornbuckle. "We deep clean the restrooms once every shift. We have a cleaning team there at all times, wiping down games, wiping down door handles, wiping down counters. We have a limited capacity, so normally we have over 2,200 games. We’re at a little over 1,100 now just to make sure we have distancing between all of our VLT machines."
Hornbuckle said some restaurants are also still closed, adding that it is uncertain when these areas will be reopened.
"A lot of it has to do with the social distancing guidelines we get from the [state] health department," he said. "That’s going to be a big driver of what we can open."
Magistrelli said he was impressed by the steps he witnessed that MGM has taken to maintain safety.
"They were abiding by all those state and federal rules for distancing and sanitizing," he said. "Actually, it was a very comfortable situation. They made the whole environment comfortable, and I think they’ve done it absolutely correct."
Hornbuckle said that is the goal.
"The big thing is the health and safety of our team members and guests is the most important thing right now," he said.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.