Nevada casinos finalizing plans to reopen

The return to normal is underway in casinos across America. In Nevada, the wait continues.

As commercial and tribal casinos begin to reopen, Nevada’s gaming industry remains closed as Gov. Steve Sisolak is saying that state gaming regulators will decide when casinos will reopen.

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Sisolak believes more data was needed to confirm Nevada was on a downward trajectory of new coronavirus infections in order to move forward on any more reopenings.

During a news conference last Friday, Sisolak was asked about the Culinary Union’s recommendation that all casino employees get tested before returning to work. He said many companies are planning to do so in plans submitted confidentially to gaming regulators. Sisolak reiterated that Nevada Gaming Control Board chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan is making those decisions.

While the NGCB works with gaming companies when the industry will reopen, American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller said the trade association has tracked the reopenings of more than 90 casinos in 11 states as of Tuesday morning.

Tribal casinos in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington state have reopened.

“Gila River Hotels & Casinos — Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva reopened on May 15th, 2020. Our first days of welcoming our guests back have been a success thanks to the commitment of our team members who went above and beyond to keep up with our enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures,” said Dominic Orozco, Gila River’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Our guests’ willingness to follow our new policies has been key as well. We can confidently say that our new safety procedures meet recently released guidelines for casinos to safely reopen. 

“As we continue to move forward, we will closely evaluate our three properties and update our protocols and procedures on an as-need basis.”

Miller noted that Louisiana was the first “major commercial casino market” to reopen as casinos welcomed back guests on Monday. Arkansas also reopened some of its casinos Monday. Mississippi’s casinos are planning to open Thursday.

“We’re treating it like an opening,” said Ben Koff, the general manager of Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort in Mississippi. “I had an opportunity to reopen a casino after (Hurricane) Katrina. We’ve had to close before. But it’s second nature to people on the Gulf Coast to open a casino.

“It’s a lot of changes, but our associates are as excited as our customers. It’s a great sign.”

Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Oregon will likely also see some reopenings in the coming week. Miller said all gaming properties have created protocols that follow the advice and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with state and local health officials. 

Those protocols include all employees and customers will be required to wear masks. At some resorts, customers will have their temperatures taken before they can enter the casino, while tribal and commercial casinos will reduce the number of slot machines. Also high-traffic areas, including bingo, buffets and pools will remain closed.

“Reopening our industry requires reimagining every part of our business so that gaming employees and customers are confident their health and safety will be protected as they return,” Miller said.

Analysts believe the industry is entering a period of unparalleled stress on their earnings and balance sheets with limited visibility on both casino re-opening timelines, the possibility of secondary closures from relapses, and the eventual demand ramp up.

“Even once casinos are opened, we expect social distancing limitations implying 50 percent less guest capacity, while 50 to 66 percent of slot machines may be turned off or removed from the floor,” said Barry Jonas, a gaming analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. “We also have heard concerns that social distancing measures could be a catalyst to rationalize slot machine counts even once demand has normalized.”

Nevada’s casino operators have the difficult task of attracting visitors back to a city known as a destination market. Unlike tribal casinos and commercial casinos that attract locals through their doors, Las Vegas Strip resorts are dependent on airline travel and drive-in visitors from Southern California, Arizona and Utah. Getting customers to return to Las Vegas as the nation still deals with the coronavirus pandemic has forced gaming companies to assure visitors that it will be safe to do so once the slot machines table games are reopened for business. 

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority launched a new advertising and marketing campaign Monday to help drive traffic back to the city. Meanwhile, the properties themselves are ramping up efforts to be ready to open when given the green light.

Las Vegas Sands plans to reopen the Venetian and Palazzo sometime in June. When they do reopen, the company said it will have 25 emergency workers on staff 24/7 to respond to any coronavirus infections.

Las Vegas Sands is also testing all of its employees. Station Casinos will test all of its employees for coronavirus before they can return to work.

MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and others will have temperature checks at all visitor and employee entrances and require workers to wear masks and personal protective equipment.

MGM and other companies have suggested customers wear masks. The company will also have hand sanitation stations throughout the casinos.

Bill Hornbuckle, MGM’s acting CEO, said New York-New York and Bellagio would likely be MGM’s first Las Vegas casinos to reopen and the others will be evaluated depending on the market. Even when MGM’s Las Vegas properties reopen, Hornbuckle said customers “will notice a difference from day one.”

One major difference? Free parking at all MGM properties. The fees are being discontinued and will be an incentive to get both locals and out-of-town visitors who drive to the MGM’s casinos and hotels to have one less expense.

Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith said he hopes some or all of the company’s 29 casinos across 10 states will reopen by late May or early June.

“Each of our 10 states where we operate will open at a different time,” Smith said. “We have been working with state officials on what that will look like and what will be needed to operate.”

Smith added that capacity restrictions may be a requirement for its reopened casinos.

“It will look different,” he said. “We are hopeful this is not a permanent issue.”