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Stevens, Circa Sports goes big for return

Derek Stevens said there will be plenty of emotions flowing with the reopening of Las Vegas casinos after a 2½-month closure because of the coronavirus.

It’s been quite the struggle for a city that counts on tourists and conventioneers to drive its economy, and now faces an uncertain future on when people will feel comfortable enough to fly and make Las Vegas, Las Vegas again.

Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate hotel and casinos, said it’s his nature to be optimistic about the city’s recovery, but added there’s a lot of unknowns as to when and whether there’s a second wave of the coronavirus. For now, he’s just looking forward to the reopening.

“There’s a little bit of a right of passage as a country and as a city that we got through something, and there’s a lot of emotion involved for a lot of people — both employees as well as guests,” Stevens said. “I think when something is new again, there’s always a blend of anticipation, a little bit of excitement and trepidation. All of those emotions will be in play on the 4th.”

There’s been no better ambassador for Las Vegas’ reopening than Stevens, who generated more national buzz and publicity on May 27 than the muted late-night press conference of Gov. Steve Sisolak, who was dealing with a possible COVID-19 scare of he and his staff which led to his canceling a televised broadcast the night before.

Stevens’ promotion of giving away 1,000 free one-way flights to Las Vegas from dozens of cities across the country were gobbled up in two hours. He added another 1,000 that were snatched up just as quickly. Those visitors will be flying to Las Vegas this weekend and next, and Stevens didn’t even require them to stay at his properties. He won’t disclose what he paid, but said it was something he and his team thought about weeks ago and made arrangements to buy tickets when prices were cheap.

“We thought this would jumpstart the whole process and something that would have pretty good interest,” Stevens said. “I did not realize when we bought 1,000 flights we would have 5,000 applicants within a few hours. It was great to see that type of demand to come back to Vegas.

“Hopefully they stay with us. But I’m happy if they stay at the Golden Nugget or Caesars (Palace).”

His two properties haven’t disclosed what reservations have been like ahead of the reopening. Two days before his promotion, Stevens said the two were at 5 percent occupancy but expected strong bookings with the free flight promotion.

The reopening of the downtown casinos comes as construction continues for a December unveiling of the Circa Resort & Casino with its 777 rooms and the largest sportsbook in the city.

“The reopenings are giving me a great trial run on what to expect before we open Circa for sure,” Stevens said. “Whoever would have thought I would have a chance to open three casinos in one year? This is pretty awesome.”

Stevens said he feels confident about the safety measures put in place by the Gaming Control Board limiting capacity to 50 percent and implementing social distancing with limits on people at tables, along with employees wearing masks that will help ease concerns of tourists while giving a different experience.

“I think the governor and Nevada had a tough spot,” Stevens said. “The state of Nevada has the worst unemployment percentage in the country, and it’s impacted the gaming industry. It’s important that Nevada sets the bar on how to do this, and they have put a thorough plan in place.

“Vegas needs to be best in class. The key element is to open responsibly, and I think that’s what you are going to see in Nevada.”

As for handicapping the timeline of the Las Vegas recovery, Stevens said he’s “better at picking an underdog in an NFL game” than trying to assess a virus, which he said is best left to medical experts. He said he only has a rooting interest for sooner rather than later.

“I’m more of an optimist with regard to the Las Vegas rebound,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of great things coming to pass, but it’s all contingent on what happens with that number (of infections), not just in Las Vegas, but nationally. If the trend continues in the right direction, Las Vegas will have a great rebound.

“From hanging outside at the pool, gambling a little bit and having some drinks, there’s a lot of demand to come to Vegas.”

Stevens said he’s excited for the return of major American sports and wagering on it and that Circa is moving ahead with its two NFL pick contests with $4 million in prizes. With the shutdown of sports, Stevens joked he was able to cut down on his betting losses to focus on learning to use technology for conferences and meetings. Meanwhile, he said he’s excited to see major American sports return, even though German soccer, UFC and Korean baseball are filling a void for some bettors.

“This could be one heck of a late summer and fall with the potential NHL playoffs, Masters and football coming back and we’ll see what happens with baseball and the NBA,” Stevens said. “I think demand will be huge and there’s a lot of pent-up demand for major televised sports.”