Global pandemic or not, dedicated gamblers are ready to return to casinos. Las Vegas, the biggest gambling destination in the United States, is preparing to open its doors back up, just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Whether this is a good idea remains to be seen. However, the city is planning to take strict measures to ensure the health and safety of both guests and employees.
As a result, the reopened city will likely appear vastly different than how we’re used to seeing Las Vegas.
For one thing, mandatory social distancing will be in full effect throughout casino floors. The Nevada Gaming Control Board is requiring every licensee—from the biggest megaresorts on the Strip to convenience store slot machine operators—to submit detailed reopening plans.
Regulations will also be set in place to limit the number of guests allowed at gaming tables, with a maximum of six players allowed at craps tables and just three per blackjack table. Anything that comes in contact with guests, such as chips, playing cards, and dice, will have to be routinely sanitized.
“I think it will take some getting used to,” David Schwartz, a gambling historian at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just going to be a different kind of experience, I think, where you’re not standing shoulder to shoulder at the craps table.”
Anthony Curtis—who publishes the Las Vegas Advisor, a newsletter that caters to frequent visitors—adds that guests will likely experience a diminished experience for the first few weeks that may even extend into July.
As the casino resorts and hotels also open back up, guests will likewise be welcomed at a reduced capacity to ensure social distancing.
“We’re only going to occupy 1,200 of the 4,000 rooms [at the Bellagio property],” said Bill Hornbuckle, acting president and CEO of MGM Resorts International. “We’re only going to let presumably 25-30% of the normal visitation in the door so that people can social-distance without being concerned that they’re overcrowded or overrun.”
Other safety measures and precautions
Those returning to Las Vegas may also notice the following precautions being taken to ensure health and safety:
- The first two MGM Resorts properties to reopen (Bellagio and New York-New York) will feature hand-washing stations with sinks, soap, and hand sanitizer.
- MGM properties will also allow guests to skip check-in by registering on a mobile app, which will also act as a room key.
- Some properties will provide complimentary amenity kits containing masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
- Guests will be encouraged (if not required) to wear masks on casino floors.
- Resort entrances may be required to have thermal imaging cameras to check incoming guest temperatures, and those above 100.4 degrees will be refused service.
- Entertainment venues will remain closed for the foreseeable future, with July 1 being the earliest potential date before shows relaunch (such as Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio).
What we can learn from Deadwood, South Dakota
In the historic destination town of Deadwood, South Dakota, 11 casinos opened the weekend of May 7, making it the last place in the U.S. to close commercial gaming establishments and also the first to reopen. If the turnout was any indication, it seems like people are ready to gamble.
Caleb Arceneaux, the CEO of Liv Hospitality which owns several gaming and hotel properties in Deadwood, noted a 15-20% spike in business—a significant increase from a typical weekend.
“Cabin fever’s real, and I think people wanted to get out and experience, you know, gaming again,” Arceneaux told CNBC. He added that the weekend occupancy was around 85-90%, indicating that many consumers had been driving in from surrounding states.
Reopened businesses in Deadwood—including bars, restaurants, and casinos—are also being required to allow for six feet of social distancing.
Deadwood is taking similar precautions to Las Vegas, such as blackjack dealers and other table operators being required to wear masks and limiting guests at table games. Slot machines are also being staggered to ensure social distancing, and cleaning crews have been instructed to place stickers on machines to indicate they have been freshly sanitized.
Though Arceneaux said he noticed some initial nervousness and discomfort among guests, people didn’t take long to relax. “I think as we get back to whatever the ‘new normal’ is going to look like, the people are going to be more comfortable coming out, and get over the fear and panic,” he said.