After 70 days of being locked down to halt the spread of COVID-19, Las Vegas is cracking the door open to a semblance of normalcy.
However, Las Vegas will be a bit different in the days of handwashing, mask wearing, and social distancing. Governor Steve Sisolak lifted his order to close the casinos, allowing them to reopen Thursday, June 4. But not all of Sin City will be reopening. Some casino-hotels will be waiting a bit to get back to business.
A town known for being wide open to pretty much anything is cautiously entering a new era. The casinos, to ensure social distancing, will be limited to half their usual occupancy, and dining will be limited to reservations only. The famous buffets are suspended for now. There’s just too much risk for having so much food displayed for all to sneeze on, sneeze guards or not.
There are 150,000 hotel rooms in the Las Vegas area, and the city’s economy depends on the tourist trade. The agency that advertises Las Vegas realizes the experience will be different, but Vegas promoters are banking on the public’s desire to get out and enjoy something. It may as well be visiting Las Vegas. Enticing visitors back will depend on keeping virus numbers low, and that’s why the companies operating the big hotel-casino complexes are taking precautions seriously.
For example, at Wynn Resorts, after housekeeping tidies a room and gets it ready for the next guest, the door is sealed with a sticker, advising the next guest they are the first human to enter a squeaky clean, sanitized room. It’s like that strip of paper that some hotels used to put across the toilet to let you know “You’re the first.”
On Thursday, Bellagio will turn on its famous fountains for the first time since mid-March to celebrate its reopening. Also opening on the Strip: New York-New York, Cosmopolitan, Caesars Palace, The Flamingo, The Venetian, and the aforementioned Wynn.
The downtown D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate Casino will open for business. The owner of the two properties, Derek Stevens, offered a fabulous promotion: giving away 2,000 airline tickets to Las Vegas. The free tickets were snapped up in minutes -- proof that freebies can still drive Las Vegas business.
There’s a freebie that has returned to the Strip, too: parking. Free parking disappeared over the years as the big Strip properties expanded and parking spaces were at a premium. Now free parking is back at many of the resorts, but no one knows for how long.
All the properties will offer hand sanitizing stations throughout their hotels. At Bellagio and New York-New York, managers have installed actual handwashing stations in the casinos. Masks are not required for patrons but are mandatory for hotel employees. The casino companies are trying to protect their mostly unionized workforce as much as they are the patrons. The use of masks is encouraged at all properties, and many of the casinos are offering free face coverings, usually with casino logos.
At Wynn Las Vegas, the company has gone high tech, installing thermal imaging cameras to make sure patrons aren’t feverish, which could be a sign that they’re possibly carrying the virus.
Vegas hotels are known for their sometimes bacchanalian pool parties. Those days, sadly, are over. The pools are open and, at some, more personal cabanas are being offered and crowds are being limited to promote social distancing. Crowd sizes at the pools will be limited.
While Vegas tries to get back to normal, the famous nightlife will be severely curtailed. There will be no nightclub acts in big hotels or casinos, and the big shows are still dark to promote social distancing. There is no schedule for when those activities will be allowed.
Spas in many hotels will not reopen this week since massages and other services are just impossible to offer in light of social distancing. Like shows and nightclubs, there’s no timeline for when you’ll be able to get a rub or sit in a sauna.
The hotels are all following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and some are going above and beyond them, replacing HVAC filters on a much more frequent basis. There will be constant sanitizing of high-touch surfaces including door handles and counters in public areas.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is busy promoting the reopening of the resorts. There’s a TV ad campaign that alerts visitors that while things may look different, there’s still fun to be had in Las Vegas. The tag line “The world has changed, and Vegas is changing with it” may already sound familiar.
Las Vegas is really all about gambling, no matter the food, entertainment, and over-the-top hotels. The casinos will still have all the games, and the odds won’t change, but just about everything else will be different.
The casinos will only entertain about half their normal numbers. Half of all slot machines, the most popular games, will be either moved out or turned off to keep people from bunching up. Chairs will be removed from half the slot machines so there’s distance between players. Blackjack tables, which are designed for six players, will only allow three. In some places, there will be barriers between the dealer and the player and between the players. Sanitizer will be used liberally on chips and cards and offered to players.
At craps, there is usually space for 14 players, but now, cut that in half. And as for the boisterous crowds around “hot” craps tables, those days are over. All the casinos will have “crowd police” reminding patrons to keep their distance and not to bunch up. It’s going to be different in Sin City, but there will still be winners ... and losers.
Steven Hill, the CEO of the Convention and Visitors Authority, told CNN that people think of Las Vegas as an escape, and it can still be that after months of lockdowns. Hill added that while certain aspects of the resorts won’t be what patrons are used to, they’ll still be able to come and have a great time.
Editor’s Note: Information sourced from the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper and CNN Travel’s Matt Villano.