Nevada casino floors are set to return to a 50 percent occupancy limit by mid-March, a move that many industry observers say offers a glimmer of hope for the casino and hospitality industries’ road to recovery. However, not all observers think it is time for such a high degree of reopening. Some, such as BJ21.com’s Al Rogers, point out that the industry has generally not done a good job with pandemic protocols. “It seems they are not taking it seriously at all,” said Rogers, from his Henderson, NV office. “A good example of carelessness was the recent opening of Circa in downtown Las Vegas. There was almost no effort made at requiring social distancing. The Nevada Gaming Control Board, after previously indicating it would enforce Governor Sisolak’s orders, was nowhere to be seen during the overcrowding.”
The easing of restrictions comes just in time for casinos' busy season, especially in Las Vegas, with events such as March Madness, pool season and major convention bookings. For those card counters, other skilled blackjack players, and advantage players in general who are already willing to brave the COVID risk, the decreased restrictions may be viewed as a positive, despite the increased health risks.
Under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s latest reopening plan, properties will be able to increase back to capacity levels that haven’t been seen since the “statewide pause” began in November 2020. Casinos can increase their 25 percent capacity limit to 35 percent starting Monday, February 15 and expand to 50 percent on March 15.
The shift would come just in time for major revenue-drivers including pool season and major conventions. “I want to help relaunch our … convention business,” Sisolak said during a recent news conference. “I want to see business travel to Nevada make a comeback, boosting our economy.”
“The fact that (Sisolak) mentioned that in his speech lets us know that he’s looking towards (a) return to normalcy at some point in ’21, assuming the vaccinations can get out there, and we can continue to mask up and reduce the spread,” said Nehme Abouzeid of hospitality consulting group LaunchVegas LLC.
“This was a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ address,” he said of Sisolak’s announcement. “I think it would have been politically unpopular if he had just extended the pause for another month, especially as numbers are going down, vaccine rollout has begun, and a more COVID-focused administration is in Washington DC.”
Sisolak also announced that come May 1, the state would turn over restriction decisions to local jurisdictions. That signals that the state could be moving closer to pre-shutdown conditions, one casino observer said. “It makes sense to transition oversight back to the local authority, so that they can have that more tailored, more customized approach. It’s been said all along, what works in a rural county might not work for a more populous county, like Clark.”
Rogers, however, commented, “In a state like Nevada, where the casino industry casts a dark shadow over all of government, it will just be a short time before they improperly influence local officials, who are even more subject to politically-forced decisions than our statewide officials. I fear another case of Carolyn Goodman-type embarrassment,” referring to the interview Las Vegas Mayor Goodman gave to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, which was widely ridiculed for the mayor’s cavalier attitude towards the pandemic and the health of visitors and locals alike.
Sisolak mentioned that the new measures were, in part, driven by the desire to return more Nevadans to work. Executives with MGM Resorts International have said that they plan to rehire more workers once operating restrictions abate.
“We expect to continue remobilizing our fantastic teams, rehiring and retraining them in order to serve our guests,” MGM CEO Bill Hornbuckle said during a recent call with investors. “Over the course of this year, we will do the same with our industry-leading entertainers across all of our properties.” The company plans to release more details on its expanded offerings “soon.”
A Caesars Entertainment Inc. spokesperson said the company is encouraged by the easing of capacity restrictions and will expand capacity when and where it’s possible.
“Our focus remains on the well-being of our team members, guests, and the communities we serve, and we are steadfast in our commitment to the best-in-class, enhanced health and safety protocols developed for all of our resorts nationwide,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We are optimistic for the future and fully committed to assisting the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Nevada and every community in which we operate.”
“Easing casino floor restrictions seen as move in right direction”, Bailey Schulz and Mike Shoro, lvrj.com, February 11, 2021.