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Vegas Rolls the Dice and Reopens Hotels, Casinos, and Restaurants

Nevada’s workforce has been among the hardest hit from the coronavirus pandemic. According to state data cited in an article in the Wall Street Journal, the pandemic and lockdown left one in every three workers in the Las Vegas area jobless. The unemployment rate in Nevada in April reached 28.2% − the highest of any state in the country and nearly double the national average of 14.7%, according to the U.S. Labor Department. After 78 days of lockdown and shuttered businesses, the Bellagio’s fountains are flowing and the gondolas are back at the Venetian.

A Lot Is on the Line

The Las Vegas Strip reopened its casinos as of last Thursday. Vegas represents one of the country’s largest-scale reopening of a city with casinos, restaurants, and hotels opening their doors. Casinos are now operating at 50% capacity, as mandated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Safety measures that the casinos have implemented include:

  • Taking guest temperatures at entrances and setting up temperature screening for workers in the back of the house
  • Making face masks available for dealers and offering free face masks and gloves to guests
  • Disinfecting dice, gaming machines, chairs, and other equipment on a regular basis
  • Putting hand sanitizers and hand-washing stations next to slot machines
  • Limiting the number of players allowed at tables
  • Establishing touchless cellphone check-ins
  • Maintaining space between slot-machine players if slot machines are opened
  • Setting up Plexiglass shields between players at table games
  • Observing social distancing in restaurants and at pools
  • Keeping nightclubs closed
  • Ensuring that properties have medical crews on site

As of June 26, face masks are required to be worn in public per the Nevada Governor’s mandate. While hospitality workers have been wearing masks, face coverings for guests have been optional. MGM Resorts International Acting CEO and President responded to the news, “Given the public health situation and the reports of new cases, we support the Governor’s decision to require masks in public places and will begin to enforce according to his guidelines. At MGM Resorts, we have put health and safety at the center of all we do, and this will be a modification of protections that make up our multi-layered Seven-Point Safety Plan.” They now plan to require masks at all MGM properties nationwide.

“I’m optimistic that customers will see that gaming properties invested time and effort to welcome them back to a safe and entertaining environment,” said the state Gaming Control Board Chief Sandra Douglass Morgan in a statement to the press.

The biggest casino operators, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, did not immediately open all of their Strip properties. Executives said they want to see how many people show up, and gradually reopen resorts.

Win, Lose, or Draw: How Is the Reopening Going So Far?

Early reports say people took advantage of free one-way flights or heavily discounted fares, low room rates, free champagne at some hotels, and ribbon-cutting ceremonies at casinos to celebrate “6-4-20 Re-opening Las Vegas.” In an article in USA Today, Jason Guggenheim of Boston Consulting Group’s global travel and tourism group said, “Vegas consumers, particularly gamblers, have been eager to resume traveling, in some cases quickly, as casinos reopen.” Travel search company Kayak said it saw a more than 100% surge in Las Vegas flight searches in late May the day after Nevada’s governor announced the casino reopening plans (note: searches were still down more than 60% from a year ago).

The expectation is that the visitors going to Vegas right now tend to be younger. They are more comfortable traveling, as those who are older are in a higher-risk group for the possibility of contracting severe COVID-19-related illnesses. Likewise, they are generally less concerned with the ongoing pandemic.

Despite casino executives’ claims of safety and public adherence to safety guidelines, field reports tell a different story. Social media accounts captured countless images of visitors without masks, congregating as they normally would. It appears that people are not taking public health recommendations seriously, though it is too early to determine how many people have been exposed to the virus and a densely populated area poses tracing challenges.

Alan Feldman, a Fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, spoke to the Association Press, saying, “There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos but for the community and the state… this is going to be a pretty long, slow climb.”

Many visitors commenting to the press about Vegas’ reopening over the weekend said they were happy to be able to visit the city once again, but things are definitely different with much smaller crowds, no music, no shows, a mix of open and closed retail outlets and restaurants, and the new safety protocols. Most are looking forward to when more of the city opens up and plan to return.

Nevada casinos account for about one-third of the $43.6 billion in total commercial gambling revenue across the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association. This doesn’t include the revenue from casino companies’ hotels, entertainment and retail offerings, and restaurants and bars. Nearly 50% of the 989 casinos in the U.S. have reopened in the wake of the pandemic shutdown, including 257 commercial casinos and 237 tribal casinos as of June 4, noted the American Gaming Association.

Distinguished Programs will continue to take a look at how the Vegas reopening goes to gauge its success and provide you with insights moving forward. 

Sources: WSJ, USA Today, AP