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Challenging Times: Specific Issues Facing the Gaming Industry During the Coronavirus Crisis

With nearly all (980 of 989) commercial and tribal casinos in the United States closed, affecting more than 650,000 directly employed persons during the novel coronavirus shutdown, there are specific sets of issues facing the gaming industry. We summarize some of the more important ones below.

Employee Issues

Many gaming industry employers have taken one of several general tracks with respect to their employees. Some have elected to pay their employees for a defined period of time, regardless of whether they are presently able to perform their jobs or not. Others have issued blanket temporary furloughs to employees or terminated the employees, hoping to rehire those employees when conditions improve in the future. The federal legislation will provide benefits to employees and/or their employers, depending on the choice of how to proceed and what path to take under the possible scenarios. Culture of the companies also impacts decisions on these points; some company executives are deferring cash salaries for stock to improve company cash positions and keep more employees on the payroll, while others are taking reduced salaries or working for free, while still others are taking a salary but donating it to an employee fund. Benefits available to employers and employees under pending federal legislation may significantly impact the decisions employers make with respect to their employees.

Credit Facility and Lease or Other Contractual Issues

Most companies in the gaming industry have credit facilities that include financial or operational covenants that are either immediately triggering events of default (unless cured) or will trigger such events in the near term. Major leases likely include provisions that should be reviewed in light of the shutdowns due to the coronavirus crisis. Accordingly, such companies should be discussing with their lenders or landlords appropriate covenant amendments or waivers and deferral of interest and principal payments. Also, borrowers need to be careful not to amend one credit facility or obtain a waiver in a way that triggers a problem or a default under another debt agreement or lease.

Of particular concern to members of the gaming industry is whether such credit facility amendments or other new financing arrangements require approvals, particularly prior approvals, with respect to such amendments and financings or whether any additional regulatory filings are necessary. If prior approvals are necessary, consideration must be given to the timing of meetings of regulatory bodies, especially in light of reduced schedules and staffing or closures of regulatory agencies, or the cancellation of scheduled commission meetings during the coronavirus outbreak.

While it is likely that current credit facilities and contracts do not have force majeure clauses that will excuse performance by gaming companies, the current COVID-19 pandemic certainly suggests that consideration should be given to seeking to include such clauses in future agreements, particularly where such outbreaks result in a company’s business being shut down by a governmental authority.

Business Interruption Insurance Claims

Gaming companies should carefully review their insurance policies for the possibility of making claims for business interruption losses. Possible claims depend significantly on the specific policy language, including endorsements to the main policy, and often require an analysis of the language in multiple policies providing different layers of coverage. Possible claims also depend on the case law in the specific jurisdiction where the casino is located. Several lawsuits are pending around the country with respect to these issues. Timing and other requirements for making claims under the policies should receive careful attention.

Licensing Conditions

Some jurisdictions, particularly those limited license jurisdictions, legalized gaming for specific economic development reasons, including employment. Some licenses are issued with specific requirements, either by statute or regulation or stated license conditions, regarding employment of citizens and/or minimum purchases from suppliers or vendors within the state. With the casino shutdown, a review of those mandatory economic development requirements and a proactive approach with regulators may be prudent.

© 2020 Jones Walker LLP


About this Author

Thomas Shepherd, Gaming Attorney, IAGA President, 2014, Jones Walker Law FIrm

Tommy Shepherd is a partner in the firm’s Business and Commercial Transactions Practice Group. As an accomplished gaming attorney, he served as President of the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA) in 2014.

Tommy represents major casino companies, Native American tribes, manufacturers, suppliers, and financial institutions regarding all matters relating to the development, financing, licensing and operation of gaming and resort facilities. His extensive experience in such matters includes public-private leases, financings, land use approvals, statutory and regulatory...

J. Kelly Duncan, Jones Walker Law Firm, Gaming Attorney

Kelly Duncan is a partner in the firm's Admiralty & Maritime Practice Group and a past member of the firm's Board of Directors (2006-2014). He is head of the firm's Gaming practice.

Mr. Duncan has more than 35 years of experience handling admiralty, maritime, and international and customs law matters. His maritime practice includes both domestic and international matters relating to marine acquisitions, financings, vessel construction, regulatory issues, maritime lien enforcement and foreclosures, contracts of affreightment, terminal tariffs, and charter parties. Mr. Duncan has served as a speaker at maritime seminars throughout the country. His international practice includes, among other things, international commercial transactions, customs rulings, protests, reliquidations, seizures, forfeitures, and classification disputes.