Virus is the wild card in how Atlantic City fares in 2021

The new year may be more of a crap shoot than usual for Atlantic City.

When and how thoroughly it bounces back is likely to depend on how quickly and effectively the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control in 2021.

The usual challenges facing the seaside gambling resort — competition from casinos in other states, financial concerns and a state takeover of its major governmental operations — aren’t going anywhere in 2021.

But they all will be eclipsed by how well authorities can bring the virus under control, end restrictions on casino operations, and restore life to a semblance of normal.

“We’re guardedly optimistic,” said Steve Callender, a Caesars Entertainment executive and president of the Casino Association of New Jersey. “It’s going to take a couple months for the vaccine to be widely distributed. But there is incredible pent-up demand. I’m constantly getting calls, emails and texts from people that haven’t come back yet who are just waiting until they can get vaccinated.”

Joe Lupo, president of the Hard Rock casino, is looking forward to summer, when the resort makes most of its money.

“People want to get out, and things will improve,” he said. “We’re working very hard at staying positive; you have to take that approach to keep morale up.”

“I think the pent-up demand is going to be explosive,” added Bob McDevitt, president of the main casino workers union here. “It’s going to be a busy summer; I truly believe that. It’s one thing to sit at home in your underwear and gamble on your phone, and quite another to come to a casino resort in person, go to dinner, see a show. Kiss is going to be playing here in August; you can’t do that on your phone.”

Right now, Atlantic City’s casino work force is about 60% of what it would be at this time of year under normal conditions, casino executives say.

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