LAS VEGAS - The casino coronavirus closure is ending, with cards to be dealt, dice to roll and slot jackpots to win again starting Thursday in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada.
Hotel-casinos in suburban Sin City planned to be first to open at 12:01 a.m., followed later in the morning by a restart of the iconic Bellagio fountain and reopenings of many neighboring resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.
Wynn Resorts pushed back its planned opening to daylight hours in a nod to ongoing nighttime protests over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. Floyd, a black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck.
There are big hopes for recovery from an unprecedented and expensive shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos, but for the community and the state,” said Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “This is an extremely important moment.”
Casino resorts that had been famously always open were shuttered in mid-March after Gov. Steve Sisolak’s emergency order closed nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Property owners, state regulators and Sisolak, a Democrat who has been criticized for the closure, are balancing health concerns against the loss of billions of dollars a month in gambling revenue and unemployment that topped 28% during an idled April.
They’re betting that safety measures — disinfected dice; hand sanitizer and face masks; limited numbers of players at tables; temperature checks at entrances to some resorts; touchless cellphone check-ins — will lure tourists back.
“I’m optimistic that customers will see that gaming properties invested time and effort to welcome them back to a safe and entertaining environment,” state Gaming Control Board chief Sandra Douglass Morgan said Wednesday.
The regulatory board required detailed health safety plans by last week, before giving the go-ahead to reopen.
Feldman said he thinks it will take a long time to recover.
“This is going to be a pretty long, slow climb,” said Feldman, who was with MGM Resorts when Las Vegas experienced an abrupt air travel stop after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and later a crippling plunge in business during the Great Recession over a decade ago. “I’m hopeful it is a consistent climb, without setbacks.”
Recovery from the recession took years — reaching best-ever numbers last January and February, when taxable casino winnings were at $1 billion each month and unemployment was at an all-time low of 3.6%.
By April, unemployment reached 28.2%, topping figures in any state even during the Great Depression. Casino winnings were near zero.
The biggest casino operators, MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, won’t immediately open all their Strip properties. Executives said they want to see how many show up.
The first to arrive are expected to be area residents, then motorists from nearby U.S. states followed by air travelers.
“The market still relies heavily on air traffic, and the longer stays in Vegas are usually tied to mass social gatherings, including conventions ... concerts and fights, all of which may take longer to recover,” UBS analyst Robin Farley said.
Convention halls, nightclubs, swimming pool parties and arena spectacles will remain mostly dark.
“It may be a little different,” MGM Resorts International chief executive Bill Hornbuckle said during a recent walk-through of the Bellagio casino floor. “But I think it will be memorable, personable and special.”