I-Team: New York City Hall Says Queens Casino Not Bound By Indoor Vaccination Rule

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New York City’s rule of requiring COVID-19 vaccination proof at indoor entertainment venues may seem straightforward. But the de Blasio administration says the executive order does not apply to one of the biggest entertainment venues in the five boroughs.

Resorts World Casino, a million square-foot indoor entertainment space in Queens, does not have to check gamblers’ proof of vaccination, according to the mayor’s office.

Why is a vast indoor casino exempt from the very same rule that applies to tens of thousands of other indoor dining and entertainment businesses? The mayor’s office says Resorts World can set its own policy on vaccination checks because the business operates on New York State property.

Governor Kathy Hochul has not yet responded to an I-Team inquiry asking whether the state can — or should — require the massive casino to comply with city regulations.

Last month, I-Team hidden camera video confirmed casino staff welcoming gamblers without any request to show vaccination proof. Security workers did ask customers to temporarily remove face masks, but just so surveillance cameras could see their faces. But hundreds of gamblers were allowed to enter without any questions about their immunization records.

Dan Bank, a spokesperson for Resorts World, did not directly answer questions about whether the Queens casino ever checks 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 an email to the I-Team.

Though a sign at the casino food court said “Proof of vaccination required before we can take your order,” members of the I-Team were able to order food, sit down at a table, and eat it — without any staff member asking for vaccination proof.

Other signs on the casino floor suggest the business is subject to the city’s Executive Order. Near entrances, above one of the casino bars, and near the security checkpoints, there are signs that read: “New York City requires you to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter this business.”

Despite that message to gamblers on the casino floor, a copy of the casino’s safety plan says “Guests and Team Members who are not yet fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be asked to wear face masks while on property.”

The mixed messages may explain why Resorts World Casino is among the city businesses receiving the most 311 complaints from New Yorkers alleging violations of the city rule.

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. 

The city has started enforcing rules requiring workers and patrons to be vaccinated to go indoors at restaurants, museums and entertainment venues. NBC New York's Anjali Hemphill reports.

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.

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