As Buenos Aires Reopens, Casinos Come Last

As authorities in Buenos Aires ready Argentina’s capital province (and city) to reopen, the government has made it clear that casinos will be last to reopen. This decision comes after enforced lockdowns in Argentina lasting more than seven months in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As Argentina prepares businesses to open their doors once more, cases of the novel respiratory virus are spiking.

A riverboat in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The riverboat casino in Puerto Madero is unlikely to open any time soon. ©Mampu/Pixabay

Lockdown In Argentina

Argentina has been under some form of lockdown since March 20, 2020, making itself one of the earliest countries in the region to adopt what international health officials considered to be the safest and most pragmatic response to COVID-19, a novel respiratory illness that has been plaguing countries around the world since this spring.

At the time, Argentina received praise from the international news media for its cautious approach, which set it apart from nearby countries like Brazil and Mexico, where officials openly denied the threat of the virus and/or refrained from implementing any nationally-mandated lockdown.

For Buenos Aires, A Detailed Plan To Reopen — But No Casinos

In late October, the government of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital province, outlined a six part plan for the city to reopen to semblances of normal life, in the aim of revitalizing an economy devastated by both the virus and forced lockdowns. This six part plan made no mention of casinos, namely: when casinos may be allowed to reopen.

Thousands Depend On Buenos Aires Gambling Industry

Local gambling industry leaders were disappointed to see Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s plan to reopen Buenos Aires, which made no reference to local leading gambling establishments like Puerto Madero’s riverboat casino or the popular Hipódromo de Palmero racetrack.

According to coverage about the decision (or lack thereof) regarding casino reopening in Buenos Aires, both the riverboat casino in Puerto Madero and the Hipódromo de Palermo racetrack employ about 5,000 workers in total, whose return to normal salaried work is unknown.

In addition to this number, it’s estimated that another 3,000 families have been affected by the necessary gambling location closures. As of now, employees of the riverboat casino in Puerto Madero and the Hipódromo de Palermo racetrack are receiving 75% of their normal salaries, though it is unknown when that will return to 100%.

The Hurdles To Reopening

As both locations push to reopen, obstacles remain in the path to doing so. For the Hipódromo de Palermo, its over 2,000 employees are largely unable to work from home, and would need to resume IRL work in order to garner 100% of their salaries as before. Complicating the matter is the architecture of the famous racetrack.

Of the Hipódromo de Palermo’s roughly 4,400 slots, most are located underground. During the era of the novel coronavirus, this is a particularly unsavory element of the gambling hall, as it is difficult to ensure the space is adequately ventilated to ensure for maximum safety of both employees and guests.

In an attempt to remedy this problem, higher-ups at the Hipódromo de Palermo have allowed for windows to be open in the underground gambling floor space. This is an unusual twist, as these windows typically would stay closed. This, however, has not managed to convince local authorities that customers can return to the location.

At the riverboat casino in Puerto Madero, known as Casino Buenos Aires, pushes to reopen have been complicated by the sheer number of employees who work for the location, which is twice the number of those employed by Hipódromo de Palermo. As such, the push to reopen has been slowed by union demands for necessary safety measures for workers.

The Hipódromo de Palermo: Open For Races, But Not For Guests

On August 28, 2020, the Hipódromo de Palermo reopened for horse racing, though no members of the public are allowed to watch these typically famous races. As the races continue, only jockeys and a fraction of the gambling location’s employees are allowed into the track to watch and work.

A Balm: Online Gambling Swoops In

Around the same time that the Hipódromo de Palermo reopened for live races, it was revealed that the Casino de Puerto Madero, a casino located in Buenos Aires, was in talks with local officials to be approved to operate online gambling, including online sports betting.

By late October, a landmark decision in Argentina’s Santa Fe province saw the government approving land-based casinos for iGaming for the time being. This decision would have been unthinkable a year ago, when all efforts to expand legal gambling in Argentina halted following the surprise election results of 2019.

Today, it seems, officials in Argentina are still gun-shy to approve legal gambling in brick-and-mortar gambling locations, as this new plan to reopen Buenos Aires demonstrates. As a salve to the local gambling industry, regulators nationwide are changing their tune regarding legal online gambling, which could signal a lasting development in the country.

In Argentina, COVID-19 Spikes

An inauspicious sign that could indicate long-lasting closures for casinos was the news in early October that Argentina had surpassed any other country in the world, including neighboring Brazil and the much-larger USA, for COVID-19 infections. According to Our World In Data, close to 6 in 10 people were positive for the virus.

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A musician plays an accordion in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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