How Las Vegas Handled the COVID-19 Casino Shutdown

Padlock and Chain With a Las Vegas Background

Covid-19 resulted in something unprecedented:

The shutdown of all the casinos in Las Vegas.

The logistics behind closing down Las Vegas casinos are more interesting than you might think, too. You might think that it’s just a matter of the manager turning off the lights and locking the door on his way out.

The reality of how to close down Las Vegas is more complicated, though.

First Things First

Make no mistake. Casinos are part of the hospitality industry, just like hotels and restaurants are. Never in the history of the United States has an entire branch of the hospitality industry been forced to close overnight.

The closest thing was probably after 9/11, which caused a lot of fear and grounded a lot of planes. But compared to this situation, 9/11 was small change.

Escalator Walkway on the Las Vegas Strip

I hate to break this to people who are in favor of re-opening individual businesses, towns, or states – that’s probably about as effective as having specific areas of the swimming pool designated as being okay to pee in.

It doesn’t matter that you’re in one of the areas of the pool where you’re NOT supposed to be. Everyone in the pool is going to suffer.

And you won’t get detailed specifics from casino staff about their processes when they shut down—for security reasons, of course.

But we do know some things.

Closing Casinos Isn’t Quite as Definite as It Sounds

When we’re discussing closing casinos, really what we mean is not allowing paying customers in anymore. Some of the staff are still on the premises working.

No casino cruise ship or casino resort shuts down completely unless they’re going out of business. They continue to have a skeleton crew to maintain operational status for that business.

A typical cruise ship might have a normal staff of 1500 crew members, but during a shutdown, only 250 of them will stay aboard. These folks include the captain and other officers, the cleaning crew, the cooks, and the fire fighters.

In fact, when it comes to cruise ships, they don’t even stay in port the whole time. Often, they must cycle in and out of port so that other ships can stock up on provisions.

Sunborn Casino Cruise Ship Entrance

Other cruise ships aren’t just waiting, either. With thousands of crew stranded, some cruise ships are travelling all over the globe so they can drop of the crew that aren’t working at their homes.

And since there are no customers on board, it’s relatively easy for these cruise ships to maintain social distancing measures.

Most casino cruises have plenty of experience being shutdown. After all, they don’t have gamblers on board most of the time, anyway. Their main concern is keeping the electronics rebooted periodically – none of this electronic equipment is meant to be left on or turned off for long periods of time.

Land-Based Casinos Are Another Story Entirely

When was the last time all the casinos in Nevada were closed?

If you guessed never, you’re close to right.

Casinos and gambling in Nevada were legalized in 1931, and never since have all the casinos in the state been closed. They shut down gambling occasionally for brief periods, though – the assassination of JFK and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. both promoted temporary cessation of gambling.

And even then, these closures weren’t complete. They shut down the table games. And they asked their customers not to play slots, which were still mechanical and hard to turn off.

Earlier this year, though, all the Las Vegas casinos had to shut down entry from the general public.

They also had to stop taking bets.

Thus ended an almost 90 year run of almost-unlimited casino gambling in Nevada and Las Vegas.

Occasionally, individual casinos have had to close their doors because of a fire.

So, Vegas has had to look to casinos in other jurisdictions for procedures. In multiple other locations, casinos have had to shut down because of natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina is a notable example of an event that shut down casinos.

There Are Rules for Casino Shutdowns

Casino gambling laws are one of the most heavily regulated topics in the world. There are legal rules they must follow when shutting down. And some security measures are obvious, too.

Any casino will have a large amount of cash on hand at any given time. One of the first things a casino shutting down must do is move that cash reserve somewhere safe.

In Las Vegas, the casinos were told on March 17 that they would need to suspend all activities by midnight.

This meant that they had to do something with all the money in the cage. They also had to clear out the change banks. Casinos keep money in lots of places, though – all the slot machines have currency in them all the time, too.

Even the chips need to be safeguarded.

Empty Las Vegas Strip

And all the computer programs used to help run the casino must be made secure, too. After all, even hackers have plenty of free time in this time of partial quarantines.

Las Vegas casinos aren’t much different from the casino cruises I talked about earlier, really. They still had to have a skeleton crew keeping things up so that they would be ready to re-open.

This crew consists of engineers, managers, and security personnel.

Even though no one was in the casinos gambling, they still needed to maintain everything, and that’s a bigger job than the general public understands.


The effect of COVID-19 on US Casinos is unprecedented, and I can’t explain the exact details about Las Vegas’ procedures during the shutdown, but it should be obvious the amount of logistics involved must be. With all that cash and all those employees, a lot of work had to get done to shut the casinos down.

And a lot of employees tended the casinos waiting for the day they re-open, too.