For the first time in the city’s long history, Las Vegas saw its iconic casino industry shuttered on March 17 of 2020. On that day, with the coronavirus pandemic gripping America and the world, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued an executive order to close all non-essential businesses across the Silver State. Although many of Vegas’ casinos have since re-opened, there were months of eerie silence where no casinos were available to the public.
Those unprecedented measures were made to preserve public safety, but during the months that all casinos were closed, gamblers realized just how much they missed the little things. Below you’ll find five seemingly mundane aspects of the casino gambling experience I never knew I missed – until they went missing in action.
1 – The Din of Chips Shuffling in Every Corner of the Room
As a fairly serious poker player, and an occasional table game fan, the droning hum of chips being shuffled and splashed around used to be the soundtrack to my casino experience.
The sound reminded me of many things back in the good old days, from a muscle car’s engine slowly revving up to a cat purring in contentment. But whatever the sound meant to you, I think we can all agree hearing chips shuffled and riffled was warm and familiar for casino gamblers.
Unfortunately, that pleasant sound had been silenced for months due to the casino closures. And even with many Las Vegas casinos open again, it’s not quite the same – at least for the foreseeable future.
Based on the science behind infectious virus transmission, touching surfaces that other people have touched can pose a serious threat for coronavirus spread. The virus has been documented to live on surfaces for several days without sanitization measures in place. And after you touch a germ-filled casino chip, touching your face can easily transfer the virus into your respiratory system through the mouth or nose.
When you add all that up, gamblers aren’tshuffling stacks of chips over and over like they once did. The risk is simply too high, and the reward practically nonexistent, for players to be touching chips unless they absolutely have to.
Thankfully, the Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) has released a series of guidelines to govern how casinos can safely operate.
And as you can see, those guidelines include both strict social distancing measures and regular removal, disinfection, and sanitization of chips:
“Player limit per table should be limited to: three players per blackjack table, six players per craps table, four players per roulette table, and four players per poker table.
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.”
With that said, however, cutting down the number of players at the table has surely dampened the drone of chips being casually riffled together.
And that’s a shame, because that background noise has become embedded in the brain of most longtime gamblers.
2 – Celebrating Big Wins by High-Fiving Complete Strangers
One of my favorite parts about playing in a casino was the shared sense of camaraderie developed at the table games and machines.
Even when Lady Luck isn’t smiling your way on that day, watching somebody win big on a well-timed double down or go on a hot run in craps was always a thrill. You’d look over in acknowledgement, give a quick nod, and slap hands to congratulate somebody you’ve never even met.
As the hours went by, they’d reciprocate by celebrating your winners with a high-five or back slap. And if the payouts were big enough, or the odds beaten so extreme, you could easily find yourself hugging a perfect stranger right there on the casino floor.
For Las Vegas sports betting enthusiasts, this spirit of solidarity was heightened to the extreme. When you’re holding a ticket backing a certain team, and somebody else cheers on that same team’s latest score, you instantly become fast friends. By halftime, you’re both huddling up to discuss the major highlights, and when the game resumes its high fives all around whenever your team makes a run.
Alas, that experience may not return to Las Vegas for a long while, what with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising Americans to maintain six feet of social distancing between one another.
Indeed, the NGC reopening guidelines follow a similar strategy by advising casino staff to prevent players from gathering together in groups:
“Casino supervisors and managers must ensure that patrons do not congregate in groups around gaming tables.
Additionally, licensees should assign employees to focus on ensuring guests do not congregate in groups near machines.
Plans must ensure that patrons do not congregate in groups and practice proper distancing in these areas (sportsbooks, keno parlors, and bingo halls).”
While fully recognizing the importance of social distancing during these trying times, I’m still mournful for the lost interaction gamblers once took for granted.
3 – The Smell of Cigarette Smoke Wafting Through the Air
This one’s a little unusual, especially for a non-smoker like myself, but there’s a certain sense of nostalgia associated with that smoky atmosphere that permeated old-school casinos.
To this day, whenever I walk the casino floor and get a whiff of a Camel Light or a quality cigar, I’m instantly transported back to my more youthful days gambling Downtown in the ‘80s.
But in an age when breathing on other people is seen as an outright attack, and folks with respiratory illnesses are succumbing to coronavirus at disproportionate rates, expect to see entire casinos go smoke-free in the future.
Just ask Kanie Kastroll, a 15-year veteran dealer at the Wynn Las Vegas and a union leader for her colleagues throughout the city. In an interview with FOX-5 Las Vegas, Kastroll explained why her and fellow union leaders have specifically requested smoking be banned until the coronavirus fears recede:
“The red flag for we, dealers, is that we cannot have second-hand smoke or smoking at any worksite anymore.
Smoking kills and now with COVID-19, it’s another example of how smoking kills.”
I empathize fully with Kastroll and her fellow dealers – who have essentially become frontline workers as casinos reopen – but I’m still saddened somewhat by this development.
For me, a classic Las Vegas gambling experience was always defined by the haze of smokers puffing away. And as understandable as smoking bans will be down the road, I’ll miss that unmistakable scent when it’s gone.
4 – Huddling Around a Craps Table to Sweat the High Rollers
As mentioned already, the NGC reopening guidelines stress the fact that people can’t gather in large groups any longer.
And if you’ve ever visited a Las Vegas craps table before, you know full well that the biggest crowds on the gaming floor crop up when the dice are hot.
That includes onlookers like myself, who seem to find themselves absorbed into the action as actual players give a round of high fives all around. We might win anything, but just watching the ebbs and flows of a heated craps game provides all the thrill we need.
Sadly, I won’t be able to stand a few feet back from a craps game and sweat the action like I used to. And that’s a shame…
5 – Gorging on Culinary Delights After Scoring a Buffet Comp
For a certain subset of Las Vegas gambler, the next best thing to scoring a jackpot is earning a casino comped buffet ticket.
Sin City’s famous buffet scene has become the stuff of legend, with venues like Bacchanal at Caesars Palace regularly winning awards for serving up a smorgasbord of world-class cuisine.
But even before the casinos were closed down entirely, most operators in town shuttered their buffets voluntarily as a preventative measure. The risks are just too widespread in a typical buffet, which would normally pack hundreds of people into close confines, all while inviting them to queue up in a line to pack their plates.
At the time of this writing, some buffets in Vegas have started to re-open, such as the excellent Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan. The risk of food borne transmission is nonexistent with a respiratory virus like COVID-19, so it’s not the buffets themselves that pose a threat. Even so, many casinos that have reopened are hesitant to re-launch their buffets given the social distancing and sanitization measures required to make them safe.
Las Vegas has constantly evolved over the last century, transforming from a dusty desert outpost to the “Glitter Gulch” of Fremont Street, and finally to the adult Disneyland that is The Strip. For recreational players and tourists, gambling is a fundamentally social experience, one defined by coming together in a collective effort to beat the house.
With that in mind, the changes to come while casinos cope with the coronavirus will be jarring, but they’re nothing us gamblers can’t handle. Even so, I’ll still miss the aspects of pre-coronavirus casinos mentioned above something fierce – and for good reason.