After the NBC New York I-Team discovered a loophole in New York City's indoor COVID -19 vaccine mandate that allowed a massive Queens casino to ignore the order, Gov. Kathy Hochul is now taking action.
Last month, I-Team hidden camera video recorded staff at Resorts World Casino welcoming gamblers without any request to show vaccination proof.
Signage around the million square-foot indoor entertainment space tells customers they must be vaccinated in order to enter, but the I-Team spoke to numerous employees who described a no-questions-asked policy. One sign at the casino food court said “Proof of vaccination required before we can take your order,” but members of the I-Team were able to order food, sit down at a table, and eat it — without any staff member asking to see an immunization record.
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On Tuesday, the de Blasio administration said the city's rule requiring COVID vaccination proof did not apply Resorts World Casino, because the entertainment complex operates on top of state-owned land.
But late on Wednesday, Hochul ordered the casino to change course.
"Governor Hochul believes every New Yorker should get vaccinated, and she supports each municipality's ability to se their own strong policies to address the spread of of COVID-19," a spokesperson for the governor told the I-Team. "New York State is directing this state-owned site, which sits within the City's borders, to comply with City policy on vaccination."
A representative for Resorts World said the Queens venue already had rigorous health protocols, but will nonetheless comply with Gov. Hochul's order.
"Upon reopening last year, Resorts World developed and implemented its 21 Point Safety Plan," wrote casino spokesperson Dan Bank. "We will continue to adhere to the latest health and safety guidance and do everything we can to help New York recover and rebuild."
The casino previously sent the I-Team a safety plan which states “Guests and Team Members who are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be asked to wear face masks while on property.”
When reached for comment for the I-Team's initial story, a casino spokesperson did not directly answer questions about whether the Queens casino ever checked customer proof of vaccination.
“We have implemented a series of health protocols as part of our 21-Point Safety Plan, which includes a vaccine mandate for guests when dining at indoor restaurants,” Bank wrote in a previous email.
Before the casino agreed to reverse course, the I-Team found it was among the city businesses attracting the most calls to 311 about failure to check vaccine cards.
Between August 13th and October 31st, the I-Team found 3,005 complaints to 311 about indoor venues not checking vaccine cards. Resorts World Casino was the subject of 22 complaints. The communities attracting the most complaints include Astoria and Midtown – two neighborhoods with dense concentrations of restaurants and bars.
Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from 311 calls.
“Based on 311 calls you could have someone who just calls and calls and calls to complain so you really have to get in there and look at the data,” Rigie said. “The vast majority of the restaurants are complying with this requirement.”
Indeed, the restaurant targeted with the most complaints is an Astoria business which isn’t even allowing customers to dine inside – and thus, isn’t required to check vaccine status. The owner and manager of Yes Chef Wine Bar on 30th Avenue says they are limiting seating to their sidewalk and street tables — precisely because they are uncomfortable asking customers to produce vaccine cards.
Despite that, 311 callers complained after they saw a sign in the restaurant window explaining that they don’t “discriminate” between vaccinated and unvaccinated guests.
“We are not the villains people say we are,” said Phillip Chorba, the restaurant's manager. “We just don’t want to have anyone inside because we don’t want to check your medical records.”
Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the vast majority of restaurants are checking vaccine cards in hopes that customers will gain confidence in dining out.
“Businesses want to keep staff and patrons safe as much as we do,” Schwartz said. “That’s why more than 92% of the businesses we inspect are complying with the Key to NYC mandate.”
New York City Emergency Executive Order No. 225, signed on August 16th, states that customers must show proof of vaccination to enter “indoor portions of . . .. .movie theaters, music or concert venues, adult entertainment, casinos” and many other city locations enclosed by walls and a roof.
As of November 1st, the city had conducted 56,500 inspections resulting in 8,400 warnings for indoor businesses caught not checking vaccine status. A first violation results in just a warning. Second violations result in $1,000 fines while third violations would cost a business $2,000. Fourth and all subsequent violations result in fines of $5,000.
So far, just 22 fines of $1,000 each have been issued for not checking vaccine cards.