Las Vegas casinos open for business

By Noah Taylor Updated
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The casino coronavirus closure has ended in Las Vegas.

The Press Herald reports the cards are being dealt, the dice are rolling and the slot machines flashed and jingled for the first customers who started gambling again early Thursday throughout Nevada.

“The past few months have presented our city with an unprecedented challenge,” Derek Stevens, owner of two downtown Las Vegas casinos that were shuttered along with all gambling establishments in March.

“We are excited to get our employees back to work and to welcome guests to the entertainment capital of the world.”

Hotel-casinos in downtown and suburban Las Vegas were the first to open at 12:01am, to be followed later in the morning by a restart of the iconic Bellagio fountain and several resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

The D Hotel and Casino, one of Steven’s two downtown properties, had several dozen people waiting in line for the doors to open shortly after midnight.

After guests had their temperature checked at the door, the casino was quickly crowded with revellers and gamblers, while the dealers wore face masks or shields.

Even a bartender dancing on top of a bar in lingerie was donning a face mask.

Gamblers flock from afar to return to Vegas

A utility worker from Cincinnati Mike Gebhardt flew to Las Vegas on Thursday morning with his sister and her fiancé for a birthday trip on a surprisingly full flight.

He walked the largely empty Las Vegas Strip before many of the casinos were scheduled to open.

“It’s going to be a little different, but that’s the way things are now,” said Gebhardt, who described himself as a blackjack player.

Wynn Resorts pushed back its planned opening to daylight hours in an od to ongoing night-time protests over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota.

There are big hopes for recovery from an unprecedented and expensive shutdown.

“There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos, but for the community and the state,” said long time casino executive Alan Feldman, who is now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“This is an extremely important moment.”

Casino resort were shuttered March 17 after Governor Steve Sisloak’s emergency order closed non-essential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Property owners, state regulators and Sisolak have been criticised for the closure, balancing health concerns against the loss of billions of dollars a month in gambling revenue and unemployment that topped 28 per cent during an idled April.

They’re betting that safety measures – disinfected dice; hand sanitiser and face masks; limited numbers of players at tables; temperature checks at entrance to some resorts; touchless mobile phone check-ins – will lure tourists back.

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

The regulatory board required detailed health safety plans from resort owners before giving the go-ahead to reopen.

“This is going to be a pretty long, slow climb,” said Feldman, who was with MGM Resorts when Las Vegas experienced an abrupt air travel stop after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and later a crippling plunge in business during the Great Recession.

COVID-19 recovery will be slow

Recovery from the recession took years – reaching best-ever numbers last January and February, when taxable casino winnings were at $1 billion each month and unemployment was at an all-time low of 3.6 per cent.

By April, unemployment reached 28.2 per cent, topping figures in any state even during the Great Depression.

Casino winnings were near zero.

The biggest casino operators, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, won’t immediately open all their Strip properties. Executives said they want to see how many people show up.

Convention halls, nightclubs, swimming pool parties and arena spectacles will remain mostly dark.

“It may be a little different,” MGM Resorts International chief executive Bill Hornbuckle said during a recent walk-through of the Bellagio casino floor.”

“But I think it will be memorable, personable and special.”

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