CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A big money maker for the state of West Virginia is up and running following a two-and-a-half month shutdown because of the coronavirus.
More than 7,000 video lottery machines were turned back on Saturday morning following an order by Gov. Jim Justice that allows the industry to restart operations.
LVL (Limited Video Lottery) is the program that oversees the slot machines in small community parlors, bars and fraternal organizations. More than a half million dollars a day is wagered on them. They bring in $200 million in revenue a year to the state.
The locations of those machines look a lot different today than they did when they were forced to close the third week of March. State Lottery Director John Myers said retailers either have to separate their machines by six feet or construct a barrier between them.
“We’ve asked that they make those out of safety glass, plexiglas or a solid piece of plastic,” Myers told state Lottery Commission members earlier this week.
Myers said if the barrier is homemade it has to be framed. Photos gathered by MetroNews shows some retailers have used PVC pipe as their frames.
Myers said the barrier cannot obstruct the view of the Lottery’s security cameras.
“It has to be a transparent barrier where we can see through it and that we can see that there’s not underage play and there’s no machine tampering going on there,” Myers said.
The LVL retailers also have to follow cleaning requirements. Myers said they have to wipe down the machines and barriers when players leave.
“The main goal is that no one gets the virus and we have to shut down again,” he said.
Casinos face some of the same challenges as LVL sites but they do have more room to work with. Myers said some are moving video lottery machines into auditoriums to create a larger footprint, proving the six-foot spacing that’s required.
But Myers said he doesn’t expect the casinos to reopen at full capacity when it comes to the number of machines because it’s likely all of the barriers won’t arrive by Friday.
There are also requirements for table games. Chairs will have to be removed from the gambling tables to allow six feet between players. Myers said only the dealer will be allowed to handle the cards so games will be played where cards are face up. He said there are also cleaning requirements when players change out.
“I expect casinos to focus more on the video lottery side at the beginning,” Myers said. “Table games may not open right at the start.”
Food serving guidelines will also be in place including the serving of prepackaged food and drinks in disposal cups.
Casinos are planning to provide masks.
Myers said the Lottery Commission should not expect the same number of players and the same amount of revenue from casinos, at least not at the beginning. He said it comes down to customer confidence.
“Say they typically on a weekday had a thousand people there, customer confidence may not be at a level that would allow them (the players) to come back into the building at the same level,” Myers said.
The shutdown of casinos and LVL retailers cost the state nearly $100 million in gambling revenue in March and April. The impact for May will probably be an additional $60 million or more.