Many Las Vegas casinos are back in business after a three-month hiatus due to COVID-19. Larger-than-expected crowds returned to America’s gambling capital this past weekend to get their degen on, but the reopening weekend had mixed results, as you can see from the photos below.
Las Vegas closed down in March for the first time in history due to the global health pandemic. Not even 9/11 or the 2008 housing crash could shut the city down. Now, however, one of the top tourist destinations in the world is slowly but surely opening back up. On Thursday and Friday, 12 of the 22 mega-resorts on the Strip reopened.
Las Vegas Strip Mega-Resorts Currently Open
- North End: Sahara, The Strat (formerly Stratosphere), Treasure Island, Venetian, Wynn
- Center Strip: Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Cosmopolitan, Flamingo, Harrah’s
- South End: MGM Grand, New York New York
- Still Closed: Aria, Cromwell, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Paris, Park MGM, Planet Hollywood, Tropicana
Las Vegas casinos reopened one minute after midnight, on Thursday. The first reports indicated that Fremont Street, a popular downtown entertainment district, was jam-packed with virtually no social distancing taking place.
For someone like myself who believes COVID-19 remains a threat, this drew my concern. I decided to check things out for myself by visiting the casinos and the Strip throughout the weekend to see if social distancing was no longer existent in the town I’ve called home for the past eight years, and to get a read on the demand for gambling in Sin City during a global health pandemic. From what I experienced, demand is higher than I expected, but lower than you may have been led to believe.
Socially Distant Reopening
On Thursday, I saw some positive signs for the future of Las Vegas casinos and its poker rooms. But the Strip, which always attracts more tourists and locals, was slow. After posting my in-person observations on Twitter, dozens of Vegas enthusiasts told me to calm down.
The Las Vegas Strip is a ghost town today despite the casinos reopening today. This isn’t good.
— Jon Sofen (@writing4poker) June 4, 2020
My initial post may have been a bit harsh. After all, it was the first day the casinos reopened, and many players are still concerned with catching the coronavirus. And I’m sure the Black Lives Matter protests didn’t help much in the way of attracting tourists, but I still expected the Strip to be busier than it was on reopening day.
New Era Emerges
After a slow first day, many anticipated an influx of tourists coming into town from California to pack the casinos. And they were, in a sense, correct. The casinos on the Strip were quite busy, all things considered, on Friday and Saturday nights, but slow when compared to a normal weekend in the pre-coronavirus days.
The “locals” casinos such as Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock, both off-Strip properties, appeared to be as busy, or close to it, as normal. That tells me that my fellow locals are ready to get back to their normal lives.
Saturday Night Madness?
Although nearly half of the Las Vegas casinos on the Strip are still closed, the ones that were open on Saturday night were quite busy. That is especially true for Cosmopolitan and Caesars Palace.
Recalibrating Coronavirus Concerns
I was cautiously optimistic about the return of the Las Vegas casinos, but also a bit skeptical. More than 112,000 people in the US have died from coronavirus. And while most of those are senior citizens, the threat is still real for those of us under 60. I’ve personally known a few people who are among the 2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and they each told me the experience was miserable.
So, while I’m glad to see my town reopen, I’m also concerned with a coronavirus outbreak in Nevada. My worries grew on Thursday when videos on social media showed packed casinos on Fremont Street, and it appeared few people were social distancing.
When I actually visited the casinos later in the day, I grew less concerned in certain ways. The videos you may have seen on Twitter of a packed Fremont were misleading. They only showed a small area of the casino where customers were packed in fairly tightly. Of course, these are the areas scientists tell us are the biggest threat.
The truth is, however, it really wasn’t difficult to social distance in the casinos, if you chose to.
On the negative side, it looked like no more than 10% of the crowds wore face masks in the casinos. Still, most patrons were respectful of others and weren’t getting up into each other’s faces. People seemed to keep a safe distance from those who weren’t in their group, and the usual high-fiving that goes on inside Las Vegas casinos was non-existent.
For the most part, the busiest areas were bars and restaurants that only seated at 50% of maximum capacity, per state guidelines, and the pits. The Nevada Gaming Control Board’s restrictions (i.e. three-handed maximum for blackjack) did help gamblers socially distance, even in the relatively packed table games areas.
We’re still waiting for the casinos to release data on revenue and hotel sales for the reopening weekend. And we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see if Clark County experiences any surge in new coronavirus cases.
The casinos are currently allowed to sell 30% of their total hotel rooms, and the casinos must limit capacity to 50% the maximum occupancy — though monitoring how many people enter and exit the numerous entrances at these mega-resorts is virtually impossible.
Social distancing was also fairly easy given there were many areas of each casino that were empty or slow at all times. Slot machines didn’t seem as popular as usual, which may have to do with the NGCB requirements that casinos remove consecutive chairs or turn off every other machine. It’s more enjoyable to play slots with a friend or companion, and it will be difficult to do that until gaming officials relax the restrictions.