Casinos are hanging in

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Alexander Pope’s expression ‘hope springs eternal’ has been used by long-suffering baseball fans at the start of a new season on how this will finally be the year.

As MLB has its opening days on Thursday and Friday, the NBA and NHL resume their seasons next week, and NFL training camps kick off next week, the English poet’s nearly three-century-old saying has a greater meaning this year.

It’s not only rooting for our favorite teams but the hope that our friends, family and co-workers will remain safe and that our lives will return to some semblance of normalcy. We’ll see more of that normalcy over the next two weeks as people return to sportsbooks in their greatest numbers yet since the coronavirus shut down most team sports in the U.S. back in mid-March.

That comes as our hopes have increased this week with the University of Oxford publishing promising trial results for a COVID-19 vaccine that could be distributed by the end of the year and early 2021.

That’s welcome news as Las Vegas has been in the midst of its peak COVID-19 infections after hitting its low two weeks after casinos reopened June 4. A White House report listed Nevada as one of 18 states in the red zone for cases — a mark that means a state should revert back to more stringent measures like closing bars and wearing masks.

Nevada mandated masks for everyone inside businesses, effective June 26, and that’s why public health experts said Las Vegas can get through this surge of cases that has prompted other regions of the country without strong mask usage to shut down once again.

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Brian Labus, a UNLV professor of public health and one of the leading communicable disease experts in the state, is optimistic Las Vegas can remain open despite some negative national headlines, including one saying the Las Vegas casino reopenings backfired.

“I expect to see a slowing of the trend and reversal of the trend and hopefully we can keep things from getting worse and turn the tide in this particular outbreak,” Labus said. “The goal is to slowly reopen Nevada to the way it was before the outbreak, and I hope we can get there.”

It’s been more than three weeks since the mandate went into effect and it took time for people to start following it. Today, compliance is high.

“Over the next week or so we should see the effect of the mask mandate and in time the impact from the closure of the bars,” Labus said. “If we didn’t think it would affect the outbreak, there would be no reason to do these things in the first place. The mask mandate can stop disease transmissions and hopefully reverse the outbreak because the last thing we want to do is shut down the economy again.”

For a tourist state like Nevada, that mandate has been more important because people travel from other locales like California, Arizona and Texas that are seeing a larger spike in cases than Nevada. Since June 4, 123 visitors, likely bringing cases with them, have tested positive and that could have infected casino employees and other local residents.

Casinos have repeatedly shot down social media rumors of closings and remain adamant they’re staying open. Labus said there are other steps that can be taken to curb cases before doing anything drastic with the Nevada economy such as reducing capacity at restaurants and hotels or closing pools.

For now, let’s enjoy the return of baseball, basketball and hockey over the next 10 days and hopefully football in the fall, even if it’s only the NFL. The return of college football seems like a greater challenge.

Sportsbooks have prepared for the influx of people and have taken steps to make it safe. Labus said the layout of chairs spread apart several feet and people wearing masks should give people comfort to come back and make bets and watch games on the big screen.

“It’s nice to sit there and watch games with a bunch of people (cheering). Just do it from a few feet apart instead of right on top of each other,” Labus said in giving guidance to bettors.

Labus said it’s fortunate there are no major events right now like the Super Bowl or NCAA Tournament that pack in large crowds. He said by the time those happen, hopefully there will be a vaccine to accommodate those gatherings.

“If you are talking about a Tuesday afternoon baseball game, it’s not going to be that crowded to begin with,” Labus said. “You will have fans coming in to watch different games and bet on a few of them. We are not on Sundays during the football season yet. We will at least have some experience starting up, and we can look at how things are working and see if there are any better ways to improve social distancing at those events.”

That will be a nice problem to deal with just to have a football season and a sportsbook to make bets and watch the games with our buddies. We will get our first taste of that this week with the welcome start of baseball. The NBA will see 22 teams play eight games before the playoffs begin. The NHL starts a 24-team format to determine playoff seeding.

That gives us the optimism we all need right now that our team is going to win — maybe not the World Series, NBA title or Stanley Cup — but society against this scourge that has upended our lives, created hardship and instilled fear.

Hope is priceless. It’s one of those games even Pope wouldn’t install a money line on because it’s an overwhelming favorite.

About the Author

Buck Wargo

Buck Wargo is a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and has been based in Las Vegas as a business, real estate and gaming reporter since 2005.

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