No Timelines: Las Vegas Casinos Plan Steps for Reopening, but Governor Sisolak Says Nevada is “Not Ready Yet”

Author Thomas Wolf
April 24, 2020 3 min read

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has already shuttered physical casinos across the world and looks almost certain to change the way they operate once they reopen, too.

The respiratory disease has killed over 150,000 people around the globe, including nearly 50,000 in the United States, since it first spread from Wuhan, China, in late February.

This week, Las Vegas casino owners and union representatives have been meeting online to discuss the likely measures they will put in place once they reopen—after Nevada governor Steve Sisolak ordered them to close up shop on March 12th.

Despite legislators’ insistence that there is no definite timeline for when casinos will reopen and Sisolak’s announcement that the lockdown in Nevada would continue for another three weeks at least, casinos see it as prudent to start planning for reopening anyway.

Over 300,000 people have filed for unemployment in Nevada since the beginning of March, and casino operating revenues are down by as much as 95% (in the case of Las Vegas Sands). It’s in the interest of all parties concerned to open up casino floors again as soon as it is safe to do so.

Cleaning Everywhere

Key among the criteria for reopening is that staff and visitors alike feel safe from the possibility of infection.

To this end, Union bosses have asked casino operators for “more cleaning everywhere—the rooms, casino areas—and [for] special teams to work with disinfecting chemicals.”

Both casino operators and staff are reportedly keen on following the example of the Asian gambling hub of Macau, which closed its casinos’ doors in February and opened them up again in March.

Gamblers in the special administrative region of China have been required to wear masks and have their temperatures checked upon entry to casinos. On top of that, extra seats are left around tables, hand cleaning gels are required at each table, and cards and chips are disinfected in between rounds. Attached hotels will also be affected, with a maximum occupancy limit potentially on the cards as states gradually phase into reopening after the peak of the pandemic is behind us.

These kinds of restrictions may be among the plans hashed out by operators and unions over the coming months.

Any measures will likely be geared towards staff protection during the first few weeks of reopening. This is because footfall will certainly start out very slow—as in Macau, where revenues have fallen by 60% or more despite casinos reopening.

Two Tribes

The Las Vegas Culinary Union, although there are others, has been one of the most vocal proponents of employee rights in the region since the pandemic hit. They have been loudly critical of MGM and Caesars, which have both yet to pay any of their 60,000 employees who have been furloughed due to the shutdown.

“They only see the numbers. They don’t see what the people are going through,” said Union representative Geoconda Arguello-Kline.

However, other casino operators have been paying their staff while they aren’t working—including the world’s richest casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands.

The Forbes list investor also donated millions of masks to Las Vegas hospitals and gave millions of dollars to Nevada-based food banks, helping vulnerable residents during this crisis.

Although MGM may not (as of yet) have paid its employees, it followed suit with some appreciated donations to healthcare facilities and emergency response providers.

The company’s CEO, Bill Hornbuckle, struck a cautious tone when responding to Governor Sisolak’s extension of the lockdown, emphasizing that his focus was on the continued best health of his family and staff.

He encouraged his social media followers to “follow the public health guidelines even when they are challenging” and admitted that the casino and hospitality sector in Nevada and elsewhere would “likely see significant changes in the near future.”

Keep checking our pages for the latest updates on the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the global gambling sector, as well as other stories.

Author Thomas Wolf


Thomas Wolf

396 articles

Thomas Wolf is our editor in chief. With an extensive background in online gambling (both working for casino operators and game studios) as well as an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, he's a proper authority on online casinos. When not running the day to day operations or reviewing new operators Thomas is a blackjack aficionado with some seriously big wins recorded at land-based casinos in both Las Vegas, Monaco and Macau.
Steve Sisolak governor Nevada