The casino coronavirus closure has ended. Cards are being dealt, dice are rolling and slot machines flashed and jingled for the first customers who started gambling again in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada.
Hotel-casinos in suburban Las Vegas were the first to open at 12:01 a.m., to be followed later in the morning by a restart of the iconic Bellagio fountain and reopenings of several resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.
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 who is 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 March 17 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, balanced health concerns against the loss of billions of dollars a month in gambling revenue and unemployment that topped 28 percent 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.
By April, unemployment reached 28.2 percent, 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 people show up.
The first to arrive were expected to be area residents, then motorists from nearby US 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.”