Protocols drive casino reopenings

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Gov. Steve Sisolak promised tourists that casinos and health officials have taken steps to keep people safe when resorts reopen June 4th, and that the Gaming Control Board will aggressively police for violations as it issued new guidance Wednesday.

Casinos on Wednesday touted their reopenings and promotions to lure guests as the fallout of COVID-19 shutdown of 2½ months continues with Boyd Gaming warning employees of possible layoffs as it announced reopening nine Nevada properties.

By Sisolak’s statements and the board’s actions, Las Vegas wants to avoid a national media spectacle seen elsewhere around the country when people weren’t socially distancing at pools and other settings, and they want to avoid the negative publicity of the cruise industry which had massive spread of the coronavirus on its ships and people dying.

On Wednesday, Sisolak directed the Nevada Gaming Control Board to promulgate requirements for “a phased and incremental resumption of gaming operations” that carries consequences by failure of casinos to comply. That release of additional guidance by the board comes on the heels of the Nevada Gaming Commission ratifying health and safety policies for the gaming industry earlier this month.

The updated guidance today requires casinos have face coverings available for patrons and guests and encourage them to wear it in public places on the property. Employees are already required to wear them from previous guidance.

Resorts must conduct temperature screenings of hotel guests on arrival, ensure there’s a medical professional on the property at all times and require hotel guests complete a symptom self-assessment. The resort must also designate an area within the resort where guests can be tested for COVID-19 and where they can await the results.

Casinos can submit any alternative options for health and safety measures at table games, and properties must include responsible gaming measures. In previous guidance, casinos were already required to trim capacity in half and limit three players per blackjack table, six players per craps table, four players per roulette table and four per poker table.

Wednesday’s update comes the day after Sisolak announced the second phase of his reopening plan — something that also includes casinos, spas, pools, movie theaters and gyms. No spectators will be allowed at any live or athletic performances and nightclubs and day clubs will remain closed. In the second phase, public and private gatherings can increase from no more than 10 people to no more than 50 people, while continuing to follow social distancing.

“We have taken every precaution possible,” Sisolak said in a conference call with reporters late Tuesday. “I don’t think you will find a safer place to come than Las Vegas by June 4th with the protocols we put in place, testing we put in place, and with the contact tracing we will put in place by that time. We’re encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time.”

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Officials said having a medical professional on site at the property will diminish the burden on the health care system, which they say has the ability to deal with any outbreak and do any needed testing. Guests would be quarantined at designated non-gaming hotels if they test positive.

“Most of the companies have submitted plans for the reopenings,” Sisolak said. “They are very detailed and take every precaution possible, and I am hopeful June 4th they will start welcoming people back into their properties with some changes. Patrons need to be encouraged to wear face coverings and not have people congregate but move along and do their business, enjoy themselves and help our economy and be safe.”

Sisolak said employees will be expected to educate visitors about social distancing if guests aren’t following protocols. The Gaming Control Board will be “very aggressive on the properties and make sure the guests and visitors are complying with the regulations” and that the companies are doing their part as well, he said.

Sisolak said “it would be a setback if there was a spike” in COVID-19 cases, and that he’s willing to pull back on his phased openings if there are any problems. He said he’s not expecting any spike or surge and confident that it will “go well.” He added, however, it will take a vaccine to deal with the virus but for now it’s up to technology and quick intervention to make visitors safe.

“The restrictions and protocols put in place at the different properties are severe enough that I don’t see that happening with the testing and isolation for anybody that’s symptomatic until they get a test back. If they’re positive they can be isolated at a property for 14 days,” Sisolak said.

“We got a pretty robust contract tracing that will be in place and includes out of state and notifying the local health district about the tracing. The properties have come up with a pretty good plan both with checking people out at the airport potentially and at the properties and making sure (a process is in place) for anybody that shows any symptoms or anybody that would test positive.”

As part of the third phase, Sisolak will consider the existing closures such as nightclubs, day clubs and live entertainment sometime in the next two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, Derek Stevens, co-owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate, announced a promotion giving away 1,000 one-way flights to Las Vegas and all were taken in a matter of a few hours.

Caesars Entertainment announced it will open Caesars Palace and the Flamingo Las Vegas on June 4th and that several retail and dining outlets along The LINQ Promenade, as well as the High Roller Observation Wheel, will reopen.

Wynn Las Vegas announced today it will reopen Wynn and Encore hotel towers and casinos with every amenity and outlet available with the exception of its newest restaurant Elio that will open later in June.

MGM Resorts International announced the June 4 reopening of the Bellagio, New York-New York, MGM Grand Las Vegas and The Signature. It said amenities upon opening will be limited and that as demand builds additional venues will open in these resorts and others along the Strip.

On Monday, Boyd Gaming plans to resume operations at its two Missouri properties, Ameristar St. Charles and Ameristar Kansas City; and its two Iowa properties, Diamond Jo Dubuque and Diamond Jo Worth.

On June 4, Boyd will reopen nine of its Nevada properties: The Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Aliante, Cannery, Sam’s Town, Fremont, California and Jokers Wild.

The Nevada, Missouri and Iowa openings follow the resumption of operations at Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs and Treasure Chest in Louisiana on May 20; IP Casino Resort Spa and Sam’s Town Tunica in Mississippi on May 21; Kansas Star on May 23; and Sam’s Town Shreveport and Amelia Belle in Louisiana earlier today, the company announced.

“We are excited for the opportunity to resume operations in Nevada, Missouri and Iowa, as our nationwide operations continue to return to business. So far, we are encouraged by the enthusiastic response we have seen from our customers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas following our reopenings in those states,” said Keith Smith, president and CEO of Boyd Gaming.  “By the first week of June, we look forward to having 21 of our 29 properties across the country back in operation, and we are optimistic that we will be able to reopen most of our remaining properties by the end of June. As we continue to reopen our properties, we will remain diligent in protecting the health and safety of every person who comes through our doors, following strict safety protocols that meet the highest standards set by federal, state and local officials.”

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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