Posted on: February 11, 2021, 08:05h.
Last updated on: February 12, 2021, 10:57h.
Nevada’s gaming properties got some welcome coronavirus-related news Thursday from Gov. Steve Sisolak (D). He plans to gradually return gaming floor occupancy to 50 percent of capacity, given the improvement seen in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Under his tentative schedule, casino gaming floors as of Monday (Feb. 15) will be able to have up to 35 percent capacity. That happens to be Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday when many workers have the day off.
On March 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. That is the limit that was in place before Sisolak announced his statewide “pause” in November.
For a couple of months, casino floors have been capped at 25 percent. Showrooms were limited to 50 people in the audience or 25 percent of capacity, whichever number was lower.
During his announcement on Thursday, Sisolak did not specifically mention changing limits for casino showrooms.
But he did say limits on public gatherings starting Monday will be upped to 100 people or 35 percent capacity, whichever is less. Then, as of March 15, the number jumps to 250 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever number is lower.
MGM Resorts Welcomes Sisolak’s Announcement
The governor’s plan initially appears to be welcome news for casino operators, though they still have to read the fine print.
We welcome today’s announcement and couldn’t be more excited about resuming entertainment, increasing occupancy, and working closely with state and local officials to bring back large-scale conventions,” MGM Resorts International spokesman Brian Ahern told Casino.org.
“World-class entertainment and conventions are key to Las Vegas’ recovery, and we will continue prioritizing the health and safety of guests and employees as restrictions are loosened, amenities are expanded, and Las Vegas and the economy bounce back,” he said. Ahern added that MGM will “carefully review the new regulations.”
As far as restaurants, indoor dining will be at 35 percent capacity as of Monday under Sisolak’s plan. Guests will not be required to make reservations under the COVID-19 policy. The maximum number of people per table will go from four to six.
As of May 1, decisions about COVID-19 restrictions mostly will be left to local communities under the governor’s current scenario. In the case of gaming properties, local leaders will work with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission to set guidelines.
Relaxing of Casino Restrictions Is Necessary
When asked about the governor’s announcement, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a Boston College finance professor who closely follows gambling trends, said it seems “like a wise step. The infection rates seem to be going down … especially in California, so it is time to start to let go.”
Especially, for the brick-and-mortar casinos, “It is the only way they will survive,” McGowan said. For example, “The debt that MGM is carrying will sink that firm if they cannot start to fill the casinos.”
Looking ahead, there could be some mergers among casinos and casino companies “in order to stay solvent,” McGowan added.
Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, further predicted that the “relaxing of state restrictions is inevitable, as the economic impact on the state’s major industry has been horrific.
“The new standards, however, need to be balanced with the efforts to increase the vaccine availability to frontline hospitality and casino workers,” Cabot added. “The state of Nevada cannot control the positivity rate of … casino patrons, but can contribute to the health and welfare of those who serve them.”
On Thursday, Sisolak did reaffirm that frontline hospitality workers will be prioritized for getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
So far, Nevada has administered about 390,000 doses of the vaccine. These include both first and second doses.
The governor also noted how the COVID-19 positivity rate was 21.7 percent at one point last month. Recently, it has been at about 14.3 percent.
The average number of new cases per day over the last 14 days is under 700, he added. In December, the number of daily cases was as high as over 2,700.
But Sisolak also recognizes that unemployment levels are “too high,” and some businesses are “hanging on by a thread.” Las Vegas Strip casinos reported gross gaming revenue of $3.73 billion in 2020, their lowest haul since 1999.
He also wants business travel to Nevada to make a “comeback,” and he wants the state to “relaunch our convention business.”
There has been a “balancing act” in developing health policies during the pandemic, Sisolak said. For example, some people want no capacity limits. Others, want strict capacity limits.
“We’re going to get through this together,” the governor added. “I want to return to the Nevada we know and we love.”