On March 17, 2020, the Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak ordered all “nonessential” Nevada businesses, including all 440 licensed Nevada casinos to temporarily shut down by midnight.
For more than two months, until the Nevada Gaming Control Board finally gave official permission for them to reopen on June 4, all Las Vegas casinos and other casinos in the state remained dark.
The unprecedented extended casino closings were deemed necessary to halt the continued spread of the coronavirus. However, they brought Nevada’s principal industry to a complete halt and left tens of thousands of workers unemployed.
Even now, with many Las Vegas gambling establishments once again open for business, the scene is a far cry from Vegas the way it used to be. If your idea of a fun Vegas vacation includes such activities as all-you-can-eat buffets, friendly games of blackjack or craps at full tables, and late-night partying and socializing at the pool or a nightclub, forget it. You will have to change your way of thinking. You won’t be able to do any of those things anytime soon.
Now that some (not all) of the Las Vegas casinos have reopened, what about Atlantic City?
Since June 2018–at least until March this year–Atlantic City started becoming more and more like the Las Vegas of the East. Then the unthinkable happened.
On March 16, one day before the Nevada casino closings, Gov. Murphy ordered all nine Atlantic City casinos to close that evening and stay closed indefinitely.
The longer the Atlantic City casinos stay closed, the worse it will be for the local and state economy. But the pandemic has hit New Jersey especially hard. So the governor wants to proceed very cautiously.
As of this writing, the casinos remain closed, with no clear timetable for reopening.
Recently, as reported in my May 26 article “When Can the Atlantic City Casinos Reopen?” the Casino Association of New Jersey and AtlantiCare have jointly developed a plan outlining what needs to happen first. Individual casino properties have also announced their own plans to ensure the safety of both their employees and guests.
So in that sense, New Jersey has started preparing for the big day when casino employees can return to work and the AC casino doors will reopen for players and guests. However, Gov. Murphy won’t be ready to name a specific date when the Atlantic City casinos can resume operations until he is reasonably certain that it will be safe to do so.
In Las Vegas, casino staff and players alike are thrilled to be back in action
During the whole time that the Las Vegas casinos remained closed, the entire town from the glitzy Strip to the gaudy downtown area took on an ambiance one ordinarily never associates with Vegas. It was so eerily quiet it resembled a ghost town. No noisy slot machines, no cocktail waitresses scurrying about the casino floor taking orders, empty sportsbooks with not one TV turned on, empty pools and showrooms, and not a gambler in sight!
What a difference a couple of days make!
Casinos throughout Nevada officially got the green light to reopen as early as 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 4. But most of the reopenings happened later, and many casinos still remain closed. Crowds were light for the most part, with downtown Vegas being the notable exception.
Nevertheless, after weeks of being idle, everyone at the casinos from top management on down to the part time help was eager to return to work. And the many local and out of town gamblers who showed up for reopening weekend seemed equally excited to be on hand for the big occasion and be back in action.
At The D and other downtown casinos, it was party central all weekend long!
Derek Stevens, owner of two downtown Las Vegas casinos–The D and Golden Gate—offered 2,000 free one-way airline tickets to Las Vegas. Gamblers snapped up all of them almost immediately.
Although they could visit any casino they wished, many of them congregated in the downtown casinos. Videos of opening day at The D showed the casino floor packed with gamblers. Very few of them wore masks (although all of the employees did wear masks). There was also a complete disregard for social distancing.
But lighter crowds and a safer playing environment prevailed on the Strip
In contrast, the casino properties on the Las Vegas Strip appeared to be a lot better prepared. For example, the Bellagio has installed hand-sanitizing stations on the casino floor and Plexiglass dividers at the gaming tables. Also, players were strongly encouraged (though not required) to wear masks, and social distancing was better enforced.
At the Wynn and Encore, in addition to mandatory thermal temperature scanning at the entrance, hotel guests must have been very relieved to discover many other health and safety precautions in place, including all of the following:
- No more than four people at a time allowed in the elevators
- Signs throughout the property reminding visitors to stay six feet apart
- Touchless control features in all hotel rooms
- Complimentary masks and hand sanitizers in all hotel rooms
- Contactless room service
For photos of the opening weekend action at some of the casino hotels around town, see here.
Which Las Vegas casinos are currently open?
Both Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts have elected to proceed cautiously with phased reopenings to minimize risk. Therefore, only a handful of their casino properties have reopened as of this writing. The currently open Las Vegas Caesars properties include Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, Harrah’s, and the LINQ Promenade. The currently open MGM Resorts properties include the Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM Grand, and The Signature, and starting Thurs, June 11, Excalibur.
Many casino hotels have decided initially to open only a fraction of their rooms. For example, the Bellagio reopened with only 1,200 of its 4,000 rooms in service. The rationale is to help control the flow of people and ensure that social distancing remains feasible.
For the complete list of Las Vegas area casino properties that are currently open, see here.
What are the most striking differences that visitors can expect in the reopened Las Vegas casinos?
The following is a summary of the numerous major changes that people contemplating an upcoming trip to Las Vegas can expect to see in the Las Vegas casino hotels. Some are mandatory while others are recommended but at the discretion of the individual property.
Even if you are not planning a trip to Las Vegas anytime soon, it is important to become familiar with the new protocols. Many of them will also probably apply to casino hotels in Atlantic City when they reopen. In any case, the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), NJ casino industry higher-ups, and health officials are all paying close attention to how well the reopening of the Las Vegas casinos plays out.
General precautionary measures designed provide a safer and healthier environment for all
All Las Vegas casino resorts upon reopening are required to provide ample hand sanitizing stations throughout the property and to dispense free facial masks.
Some casino hotels such as the Bellagio and New York-New York have also installed actual hand-washing stations with water, soap, and towels, on the casino floor.
Some casino hotels such as the Wynn Resorts properties use thermal imaging cameras to check every guest’s temperature before entering. Anyone with a fever is turned away. At the Venetian, a team of 25 Emergency Medical Technicians is on hand as well to assist any guests who may need immediate medical attention.
All casino employees are required to wear facial masks covering their nose and mouth. Visitors are not required to wear masks, but wearing them is strongly encouraged.
On the other hand, masks pose a special challenge in using video surveillance for crime and fraud prevention. Accordingly, at the Venetian, guests are not allowed to wear masks that cover the whole face. Also, before starting to play, patrons must briefly lower their masks to show that they are not underage.
Many casino hotels offer keyless room access to minimize long lines and crowded conditions at the check-in desk. At Treasure Island, Plexiglass shields have been installed at the registration desks. Hotel guests are still given keys there but not until they have had their temperature taken.
In some respects, guests might feel more like they’re checking into a wellness facility than into a casino hotel. However, a Vegas hotel stay does come with some special perks that were hard to come by previously. One is very cheap room rates. Another is free parking.
Most of the Las Vegas casino hotels will also offer their guests pool access. However, there will be fewer lounge chairs, placed six feet apart to promote social distancing. There won’t be any raucous pool parties like those for which Las Vegas is well known anytime soon.
All pool areas must maintain the highest standards of cleanliness. At Wynn Resorts, lounge chairs and cabanas will be thoroughly cleaned after each use. Cabanas will be pressure washed nightly, entry points and countertops will be cleaned at least hourly, and lifeguard posts will be cleaned before each shift.
The casino floor
The changes to the casino floor will be among those most visibly noticeable. The layout and player capacity will be strikingly different for every game.
Half of the slot machines at each casino must either be removed or turned off. At Caesars owned properties, chairs have also been removed from nonworking slots, so no one will be able to sit there.
Fewer gaming pits will be open, and in those that are, new social distancing requirements apply for table games typically played with full tables.
Some casinos such as the Bellagio and Treasure Island have installed acrylic dividers at certain table games like craps and blackjack.
Chips, dice, and slot machines must all be sanitized.
Craps tables can now only accommodate up to six players (three on each side), and crowds can no longer gather behind the shooter.
Meanwhile, the maximum number of players at blackjack, roulette, and casino poker tables is only three.
Most of the casino sportsbooks are open
Some casino restaurants are open but only by advance reservation and at 50 percent capacity. Groups are limited to five persons. All tables must be spaced at least six feet apart, and all wait-staff must wear masks.
Disposable menus are being used, and at some restaurants, napkins and utensils come wrapped in plastic.
Even high-end restaurants are now offering takeout service. However, all buffets remain closed.
While having fewer restaurants to choose from with limited hours of operation, and in-house dining by reservation only will undoubtedly inconvenience many customers, simply providing safe food service at all under the circumstances will be a challenge.
Craig Taylor, director of culinary operations at Treasure Island, compared the task to what is entailed opening a new property. “Every time you take a step, there’s another one that comes up.”
Every casino property in town has had to figure out how to maintain social distancing for kitchen staff. They have also had to scramble to restock their food supplies after donating or discarding what was on hand when the casinos shut down.
All Las Vegas casino hotels must now comply with procedural cleaning standards provided by the Center for Disease Control, Southern Nevada Health District, the World Health Organization, and the local Gaming Control Board.
- All bed linen and glassware in hotel rooms must be replaced for each new guest.
- HVAC filters must be cleaned frequently.
- Often touched surfaces such as phones and TV remotes must also be cleaned for new guests.
According to Kenny Cho, executive director of housekeeping at Treasure Island, all housekeeping workers at the property received special training before returning to work. The instruction covered basic information about the coronavirus, the use of new chemicals, and hand-washing and mask wearing.
Not open at all until further notice
All of the following facilities and amenities remain closed
- Most poker rooms
Entertainment is limited to select lounge acts by masked performers. Many spas and salons also remain closed.
Summary and conclusion
Whether or not the precautions already being taken at the Las Vegas casinos will be sufficient to prevent an ongoing new wave of COVID-19 cases in the weeks and months to come remains to be seen. However, cause for concern already exists.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman feels “cautiously pleased.” However, only a few days after the first casino reopenings, a surge in new cases has already been reported. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, reported 207 new cases on Tues., June 9, the highest single day increase in 2 ½ weeks.
The increase in cases, especially if it continues, will hopefully serve as a stern walking that the casinos must take every precaution necessary to safeguard the health of its employees and guests. But as guests, we need to act responsibly, too. If we want to continue to enjoy what the casinos have to offer, we need to follow the recommended guidelines and wear masks and maintain social distancing for as long as we are advised to do so.
According to a June 7 article on PressofAtlanticCity.com, NJ Gov. Murphy hopes to reopen the Atlantic City casinos by July 4. However, the proposed date is not set in stone. So don’t count on it yet.
Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts, indicated that the casino hotels would need about 14 days’ advance notice prior to reopening. Based on those time frames, in order for the casinos to properly prepare for a July 4 reopening, we are only a week away from needing to make a final decision