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Las Vegas has strong Fourth of July weekend

One month into reopening, Las Vegas had its strongest weekend yet as more resorts opened their doors ahead of the Fourth of July crowds.

And a crazy weekend it was — not only in terms of packed pools and large crowds in the casinos but the widespread wearing of the state-mandated masks in the midst of rising coronavirus cases in Nevada and nationwide.

It was a weekend filled with rumor and innuendo on social media that Las Vegas would shut down after the weekend because of rising coronavirus cases — similar to what has happened in other states. That prompted several resorts and casino executives to refute the claims on Twitter and to the media.

On Sunday, downtown Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens went on Twitter to refute a similar claim about the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino.

“I know a guy,” Stevens jokingly responded in calling it false.

Wynn Resorts even put out statements to the local media echoing as well that they’re not closing and adding that they hoped the crowds over the Fourth of July weekend continued over the summer.

On the surface, the crowds are a great sign for the recovery as people get their Las Vegas fix following a 2 ½-month shutdown. But others who are reluctant to travel now will be needed to further the recovery beyond this pent-up demand stage, gaming consultants said.

Caltrans reported traffic heading northbound on I-15 near Baker on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was similar to 2019. Southern California traditionally accounts for about 20 percent of visitors, but some suggest it may be double that percentage for now given a reluctance by many to fly. There were 304 flights arriving in Las Vegas on Friday compared to 192 on June 5, which is a step in the right direction even though many remain reluctant to fly.

Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said “they’re cautiously optimistic” about going forward since it appears people are willing to travel and they’re “encouraged by the weekend crowd.” Mandating masks is part of helping to keep coronavirus cases down, she said.

The weekend surge is no surprise after people were locked down in their homes dealing with COVID-19. The crowd during the first month is part of the pent-up demand and crew that’s considered some of the harder core gamblers.

Stevens told CNBC on Friday there are “far-lower headcounts” in casinos but slot and table numbers are up and in some areas “up dramatically” and higher than June 2019 despite three fewer days.

“The spend per person far more than what we would have expected,” Stevens said. “I expect the publicly-traded companies’ reports will indicate that.”

Gaming consultant Josh Swissman of The Strategy Organization said the mask will help more people feel comfortable coming to Las Vegas, and that’s important once the pent-up demand phase of recovery ends — a timeline he can’t predict right now.

“The people that are coming are spending more when they come in, but there’s just not as many of them. That’s not sustainable,” Swissman said. “Those folks aren’t going to be able to spend more than they have historically in the midst of this pandemic and all of the financial hardships that come with it. There has to be a leveling out at some point and that happens as more people come to Vegas.”

Swissman said If the pent-up demand tapers off before there’s an increase in travel from the next group there will be “some hard times like we’re experiencing on weekdays right now” (without conventions).

“The good news is the gaming companies are pleasantly surprised with the volume and revenue they are seeing and were prepared for much less,” Swissman said. “They are prepared to weather the storm in any gap of pent-up demand and return of traditional visitation.”

One indication for future demand is the further reopening of casinos and air travel demand.

While some local’s casinos in Henderson and North Las Vegas remain closed, some Strip corridor properties haven’t reopened, including the Palms, Tropicana Las Vegas, Rio, Bally’s, Planet Hollywood, Mirage and Park MGM. Casinos were required to notify state officials of their plans on Monday.

“We have communicated to the Gaming Control Board that they will remain closed until we are prepared to publicly set a date for reopening,” MGM said in a statement. It opened Mandalay Bay and Aria last week.

Travel research firm Destination Analysts said the rise in coronavirus cases nationally is making people less likely to travel the rest of the summer and if they do their first preference is beaches. Travelers are worried about the behavior of other travelers.

Another canary in the coal mine is watching conventions scheduled for the fall. That got a blow on Friday when the World Game Protection Conference that was rescheduled for October canceled until March 2021. Event organizer Willy Allison said he fears other conventions will be canceled the remainder of 2020 given the current state limit of 50 people at gatherings and no slowdown as of yet for the coronavirus.

Remembering two local giants

Las Vegas suffered two big losses over the weekend.

Richard Haskins, 56, president of Red Rock Resorts and A 25-year veteran of Stations Casinos, died Saturday when his jet ski collided with a powerboat on Lake Michigan. The board of directors will be making an announcement on succession.

Commercial developer and horse owner Irwin Molaksy died Saturday of natural causes at the age of 93.

His company the Molasky Group built commercial and residential projects in Las Vegas and across the country. Boulevard Mall and Park Towers condos east of the Strip were among his projects.

Molasky was the co-owner of 2000 Eclipse Award Sprinter of the Year Kona Gold, who won the 2000 Breeders Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.