How the Coronavirus Changed the Way Las Vegas Casinos Operate

Las Vegas Strip and Coronavirus Background

On March 17 of 2020, Governor Steve Sisolak of Nevada ordered all non-essential businesses to close across the Silver State – including Sin City’s iconic casinos. The executive order was made in the midst of the coronavirus (aka COVID-19) outbreak, as large crowds gathering in close confines like a casino has been deemed unsafe.

Of course, Las Vegas’ vital casino industry will return, but things won’t be the same when gamblers get back to their favorite venue. Below you’ll learn about five major changes to expect when revisiting Las Vegas casinos for the first time after the coronavirus closures.

Table Games Will Be Limited Due to Social Distancing

In early May of 2020, the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) issued new guidelines for how casinos can safely reopen once Governor Sisolak gives the all clear.

Among the more noteworthy aspects of the NGC reopening plan are limitations on the number of people who can play a table game at any one time. Per the NGC guidelines, all gaming areas must reduce their maximum allowable occupancy by 50 percent.

To accomplish this, table games will remove several seats from the equation to ensure social distancing recommendations are satisfied.

If you’re a real money blackjack player, expect to see just three seats per table for the foreseeable future instead of the standard six-seat arrangement.

Las Vegas Statue of Liberty With Mask

Craps tables will have their capacity reduced to six players per table, and the ubiquitous crowds of cheering onlookers will no longer be permitted.

At the roulette table, what would normally be up to eight players enjoying the game together will now be halved to four players per table.

And for poker-based table games like Three Card Poker, Pai Gow Poker, and the like, the lineup will be reduced to four players at a time.

In a statement explaining the new guidelines, NGC Board Chairwoman Sandra Morgan made public safety a priority over player comfort:

“These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented measures.

We are confident that these policies are sound, not only for our licensees, but for our employees and guests.”

As you can imagine, cutting the number of players present in a table game down by half will have obvious effects on the player experience. No more ganging up on a craps game with a big group of your best buddies, and no more meeting new friends while you win on the same number in roulette.

A big part of what makes gambling in a Las Vegas casino so much fun is the spirit of camaraderie that develops between players – even perfect strangers who have never met and will most likely never meet again.

Nonetheless, until the scientific and medical community has a firm handle on how to control the spread of coronavirus, taking common sense precautions like player limitations is the only prudent route for casinos to take.

Casino Staff Sanitize Tables, Chips, and Equipment

While you’re playing blackjack, craps, roulette, or another table game, don’t be surprised when the game is paused temporarily for a quick, but thorough, round of cleaning.

Per the NGC reopening guidelines, casinos must periodically halt play to disinfect and sanitize every conceivable aspect of a table game:

“Plans should ensure regular cleaning and disinfection of, without limitation, table games, rails, chairs, dice, card shoes, shufflers, roulette wheels, Pai Gow tiles, pit podiums, blackjack discard holders, and toke boxes when a new player or employee comes into contact with any of the aforementioned gaming equipment.

Plans should also address how licensees will disinfect cards and chips.”

For folks who have been stuck at home feverishly wiping down their kitchen countertops and door handles with alcohol wipes, you can only imagine how this process will play out.

Players will be asked to stand and step aside, while remaining socially distanced, as staff members scurry around the table to wipe down everything people come into contact with. And as the guidelines above make clear, that includes everything from the blackjack shoe to the cards that come out of it, to the chips being bet on every hand, and even the dealer’s toke box.

This will seem like a major inconvenience at first, but when you compare it to the health effects caused by severe coronavirus cases, taking breaks to sanitize surfaces is simply a mild one at most.

With that said though, just imagine how many craps players will explode when they’re “hot” dice are suddenly removed from the table for a quick spray down…

Live Poker As You Now It Just Might be Dead (For Now)

As noted above, poker-based games must have their seating limited to four players per table going forward.

That won’t make a huge difference for table games like Three Card Poker, but for traditional poker like Texas holdem and Pot Limit Omaha, four-handed play could be a death knell of sorts.

Whether you play cash games or poker tournaments in Las Vegas, you know that most tables usually run with either nine or 10 players present. Every so often, you might see a six-handed table running, as these are favored by more skilled players who like the additional action created by short-handed dynamics.

But unless you’re in the sorriest poker room in Sin City, you’ll almost never see four-handed tables running. That’s because the gameplay of traditional poker is fundamentally based on having a full table of players taking part. Nine-handed play, for example, allows for positional considerations what with the button, small blind, big blind, under the gun, cutoff, and hijack seats alternating after every hand.

CVS Las Vegas Strip

In a four-handed game, however, you’ll only ever be sitting in the button, small blind, big blind, or under the gun seat.

And when the rake – or the fee collected from every pot during a cash game – is factored in, paying blinds on half of the hands you play makes four-handed poker financially unfeasible.

That’s exactly the point made by local poker player Richard Gilliam, who made an official request with the NGC to revise its poker guidelines from four to six players:

“I understand the need for reducing the number of players as a safety measure, but these regulations are meant to strike a balance between visitor safety and enterprise economic viability.

Therefore, I ask the commission to reconsider this limitation and increase the number of players at each poker table to a minimum of six players.”

Whether the NGC obliges Gilliam’s request remains to be seen, but even if the agency does so, live poker in Las Vegas won’t look or feel the same going forward.

In widely shared photos found online (just search for “poker room reopening + safety measures), you’ll see what poker rooms have in store when it comes to social distancing.

Picture large Plexiglas dividers ringing the table and providing a germ-proof barrier between players. These dividers work like something you’d see in a bank, so you’ll be pulling cards off the felt through a slim slit near the bottom of the glass. When betting chips, you’ll also be sliding them through the slit one or two at a time, rather than pushing out big stacks in the typical fashion.

All things considered, it’s hard to see many recreational poker players joining the fray until the NGC guidelines are relaxed down the road.

Sportsbooks Won’t Be Where You Watch the Games

On a typical Sunday afternoon in Sin City, the major sportsbooks in town transform into raucous viewing parties.

Hundreds of sports fans and bettors pack the joint, all gazing upward to the massive TV screens to follow their team’s every move in real time. Folks cheer, high-five, and even hug when their ticket becomes minted a winner.

Unfortunately, that lively atmosphere will be a thing of the past under the NGC’s reopening guidelines:

“Plans must ensure that patrons do not congregate in groups and practice proper distancing in these areas.

Plans must address how the race & sportsbook, keno lounge, bingo hall, and any other gaming area will be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis.

Plans should also address the availability of hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for patron use in these areas.”

With a ban on congregating in groups, Las Vegas sportsbooks will have to get creative in how they serve bettors. The South Point, for example, started its phased reopening by offering a “drive-thru” sportsbook service, allowing bettors to pull up, place their bet, and drive away.

As for the actual sportsbooks themselves, expect a similar “come and go” system to be in place. The lines you’ll stand in will be socially distanced, and once you’ve placed a bet, you’ll be asked to leave to make room for new bettors.

Slot Machines and Video Poker Will Be Spaced Out

One of the biggest economic engines for a casino is its machine games like the slots and video poker.

So naturally, the NGC provided stringent guidelines to safeguard casino machines upon reopening:

“Plans must ensure that the floor plan for gaming machines creates proper social distancing between patrons.

For example, chairs and stools in front of every other gaming machines could be removed so that patrons do not sit next to each another, or licensees could propose other measures to ensure proper distance between patrons. Additionally, licensees should assign employees to focus on ensuring guests do not congregate in groups.

Plans must address how gaming machines, devices, chairs, and other ancillary equipment will be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis.

Plans should also address the availability of hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for patron use on the gaming floor.”

In a photo that has gone viral on social media, the Aria’s slot machine layout shows every other machine in a bank turned off to encourage social distancing. Furthermore, specially designed glass dividers have been installed between each machine.

Texas Station Las Vegas Sign

And to cap things off, these dividers come equipped with ultraviolet rays that are known to kill coronavirus upon contact.

This means no more nudging your neighbor to take a look at your royal flush draw, or high-fiving when a jackpot slot spin finally arrives.

Conclusion

Throughout its history as the casino gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas has experienced its fair share of trying times. In the wake of 9/11, restrictions on air travel and an atmosphere of fear plunged the city into deep economic hardship.

When the Great Recession struck, gamblers who normally had expendable income suddenly couldn’t afford their regular sojourns to Sin City. But in the end, the people who make up Las Vegas’ gambling industry – casino staff and players alike – worked tirelessly to bring their beloved city back from the brink, and they’ll do the same in a post-coronavirus world.