What the Future of Las Vegas Might Look Like in a COVID-19 World

Welcome to Las Vegas SignIt’s been over seven weeks since Las Vegas was effectively shut down per the state’s mandated casino closure order, and the bustling city has never been so quiet.

Nevada Governor Sisolak had casinos across the Las Vegas Strip and the entire state closed mid-March, and it was the reason for the major decline in visitors compared to the same time last year. In March 2019, Las Vegas saw over 3.6 million visitors. This March saw more than half of that number drop, with 1.5 million visitors.

But reduced visitation wasn’t the only blow to the city; its entire industry was crippled. Nevada’s economy has been the most impacted throughout the country, and it’s no wonder why. A city built on tourism, hospitality, and more recently, sports, was sure to lose its ground when the coronavirus closures pulled the rug up from under the city.

With nearly 40% of Southern Nevada’s workforce in the hospitality and leisure sector, it resulted in a tidal wave of lost jobs, from layoffs to furloughs. Since the beginning of March, almost 419,000 Nevadans have filed for unemployment.

As of now, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has set no concrete date for casinos, however, guidelines for reopening were approved last Thursday, which is a big step forward. Governor Sisolak also announced last Thursday that Nevada was entering into Phase 1 of its reopening plan.

Phase 1 kicked off May 9 and allowed for retail businesses, restaurants, barbershops, hair and nail salons to open their doors to 50 percent of their allowed capacities, per the local fire code. Other coronavirus measures were advised, such as ensuring staff and visitors wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

How Might Reopening During the Pandemic Affect Las Vegas?

With casinos still closed and the state only being in Phase 1 for three days, it’s hard to predict what a complete reopening for Las Vegas will look like right now. So far, casinos nationwide are still shut down, so there’s been no immediate example to look on and learn from just yet.

The closest model that casino operators have to follow was the reopening of casinos in Macau, China in late February. Through that example, many Las Vegas properties have been taking note of which safety protocols to adopt and implement.

Those protocols include rearranging casino floors to support social distancing, enforcing that staff, and guests, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and performing noninvasive temperature checks on every entrant to the casino property.

Much of Las Vegas’ ability to rebound post-shutdown will depend on casino operators ensuring that their properties are a safe space to return to, for both staff and guests, and the confidence of guests not only traveling to Las Vegas but feeling comfortable being in a tourist city where people will be all abound.

Keith Smith, president and CEO of Boyd Gaming, believes the valley’s local casinos will be instrumental for pulling the city back up by its bootstraps. With the local casinos not seeing many international visitors, and seeing guests who are able to drive to visit the properties versus flying to get there, it seems like a win-win situation for wary gamblers who are ready to return to live casinos.

Industry Workers Worry About Their Future in Las Vegas

Many industry workers who directly lost jobs because of the casino closures say they can’t afford to wait and see if they’ll get their jobs back and have begun looking into alternative career opportunities to support themselves.

One party dancer at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, Nicolette Pantaleo, told the Los Angeles Times that she “doesn’t have the desire to dance anymore.”

After finding success as a professional dancer in Las Vegas for the past 11 years, Pantaleo says she’s started investing in other career opportunities as she’s not sure whether she still has a future doing her line of work in Vegas. She’s taken up online financial classes and voice-over lessons during the shutdown with aims of finding work as an investment banker or narration artist.

Unfortunately, not all affected industry workers have been able to think about other options for future work as they’ve been fighting just to get unemployment benefits in order to survive the shutdown.

One furloughed baccarat dealer who works at a Strip property, Keith Wade, says he has received his unemployment money since mid-March, saying that he goes to bed thinking about it and wakes up thinking about it, too.

Experts Don’t Expect Casinos to Open All at Once

While Strip properties are hopeful for a mid-May to early June reopening date, they don’t think all casinos will be opening at once.

In fact, mega casino operators like MGM Resorts International plans on opening just a couple of their 10 Strip properties, with plans to open The Bellagio and New York-New York to accommodate different traveler’s budgets.

Caesars Entertainment, who also operate 10 properties on the Las Vegas Strip, will likely follow in the same pattern of opening only a couple of their properties at first and seeing how that goes before they reopen the rest. It seems to be the smartest, safest move.

Wynn Resorts on the other hand, who only own two Las Vegas casino-hotels, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore, recently said they’ll likely open their two Strip properties at the same time. The company also announced that they would continue providing full-pay to all salaried, hourly, and part-time employees through May 31.

Some Locals Are Enjoying the Slower Pace and Time Off

Las Vegas is a city that never sleeps, but with the coronavirus pandemic, it was finally forced to rest. And some locals are enjoying the slower pace of an empty Strip and not going into work.

The Las Vegas Strip is normally filled with tourists from all over the country and world, but during the shutdown, it’s positively been local territory.

If you were to walk down the Strip this afternoon, you would see native couples taking a stroll, bicyclists, joggers, and skateboarders just taking in the sight of Las Vegas Boulevard without all the tourists.

Like one senior at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada (UNLV) said:

“When is it ever going to be this empty again? Probably never.”

In fact, the emptiness of the Strip is in such a stark contrast to the normal Vegas Strip, often full of excited, rowdy visitors, that even a family of ducks were seen walking in the middle of the road in front of the Venetian a few weeks ago.

If you’re a Las Vegas local and haven’t had a chance to experience a lulled Las Vegas Boulevard, now would be the time before things start opening back up.

Stay Tuned

It’s really hard to say what Vegas might look like in a few weeks with things slowing starting to open back up and casinos on the horizon of beginning their operations again.

We do know that casino operators are working hard to make sure their properties give its guests and staff and ultimate peace of mind upon returning. We’ll just have to wait and see how things go.

We do know one thing: We can’t wait for Las Vegas to return to normal again and that it’s eager to welcome back visitors and give them some joy during these challenging times.

How do you think Las Vegas will do once casinos are given the green light to reopen? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Be sure to check back for more coronavirus coverage in Las Vegas.