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Sportsbooks make adjustments to reopen

Come one, come all. The doors of a few Las Vegas casinos and sportsbooks open Thursday after the city has been shut down due to the pandemic since March 18.

One of the questions that first come to mind is whether anyone will show up in this mentally exhausting era where the murder hornet appears low on the list of things to avoid.

But visiting Las Vegas, or being told you can’t Las Vegas, is another story. Las Vegas is more than just a place to gamble, it’s a vibe with a surrounding aura that no place in the world can duplicate. There have to be Vegas fans all across the country missing their two-day benders filled with memorable stories created. So far, it appears people will come as the city opens in phases.

“That’s the thing, who is going to come but we’ve already got above 30 percent hotel occupancy at the Bellagio for when we open,” MGM Resorts sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said Monday afternoon.  “And room rates for next week are over $300 per night, so there is some optimism that people want to come back.”

And that’s just one of the stories on the Strip. At the local places like Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming, there figures to be much higher expectations placed upon their locals eagerly returning after being cooped up at home for so long.

Asked whether he would open their race and sportsbooks with a skeleton staffing schedule, Station Casinos book director Jason McCormick suggested they would be very busy on Thursday.

“Our staffing will be right-sized for business levels, but not a skeleton,” McCormick said. “We are ready and anticipating significant visitation in the race and sportsbook upon opening.”

Station Casinos is opening all its race and sportsbooks except for Texas Station and both Fiesta’s and they’ve got a plan set to maximize safety for all.

“Fifty percent of our seating has been removed in all books with every other seat removed,” McCormick said. “The writers will be in masks, a line queue to allow for social distancing, no more community racing forms, and no more pencils.”

On the sportsbook side, Stations will not open Wildfire Sunset or Barley’s until the next opening phase. For the area in Henderson, Wildfire Lanes makes up for the loss of Barley’s, both of which are great spots to have affordable drinks and watch all the games.

Jay Kornegay’s Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook retail operation won’t open until June 11. But in a recent discussion he told me they wouldn’t be offering daily sheets, pens, pencils or anything else that people continually touch or share.

No daily sheets? Is the world going crazy? I believe “Yes” is the answer. And we adapt to the times.

Caesars Palace will not open any Nevada sportsbook in the first phase, but the Wynn sportsbook will be open and a few of the MGM Resorts strip properties will open as well.

“We have the Bellagio, New York-New York, and MGM books opening on June 4 and our daily hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until more sports come back,” said Stoneback, who will still run the hub operation from the Mirage book despite the property remaining closed. “We’ll have five people, including myself, working at the Mirage book.”

The state mandated a process for all the casinos to follow if they chose to open.

“All employees will wear masks,” Stoneback said. “The new process for employees when they walk in will be them washing their hands immediately with hand sanitizer, then their temperature will be taken, and then they’ll be handed a mask for their shift.”

The idea is to keep every inside safe and clean as possible. The last thing the industry wants is for guests to go home with a case of COVID-19.

“We’ve cut out 50 percent of our seating, split up the kiosks, and have put spots on the floor in front of the counter so bettors can practice social distancing while in line,” Stoneback said.

The kiosks at the MGM properties are open 24 hours and also take horse racing wagers. So when they’re closed, bettors can still bet the late races. The sports betting menu also opens up when closed with the BetMGM feed that is run out of New Jersey operated by GVC.

I was worried about a lot of my friends in the casinos losing their jobs, and a lot of people were giving the casino operations a hard time initially after the shutdown for not paying all their employees on leave. But the nearly $1,000 given weekly between the state and federal governments is more than most people laid off made while working. So from that perspective, all involved did a great job to ease the pain of the pandemic.

The hotel occupancy figures to grow more on Thursday and the numbers will be interesting to see from a 50 percent Las Vegas soft opening. That’s what we have. There are no daily games that people care about to bet — although some seem to like Russian table tennis — but the opening of the casino and the books is more a statement on how the USA and Las Vegas can beat anything. It’s a symbol of VegasStrong at its finest.

I never thought I’d see Vegas shut down, for anything. Now that the industry is reopening, we have to be the best ambassadors for the city we love and do the best marketing possible, which is always word of mouth.

So pass it on. Vegas is once again open.