A changed Vegas prepares to reopen with free parking and a new slogan
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Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the city known for The Strip, nightclubs, extravagant dining and, of course, 24/7 gambling has faced a tremendous crisis as much of the country — and the world — continue to shelter in place. There’s no such thing as ordering a to-go game of blackjack and streaming a recording of an old Vegas nighttime show in your living room just isn’t the same.
For anyone expecting a return to the nonstop frenetic action of Sin City once the pandemic subsides, there’s reason to believe you’ll be disappointed — at least in the short to medium term. Valet parking, congregating at a hot craps table, and partying in a packed nightclub or pool won’t happen again in Vegas anytime soon.
As was shared in the new Visit Vegas marketing video, there’s a “new Vegas, for a new reality” that is getting ready “just for you.”
Much like at other typically mega-packed destinations, such as Disney World, a full reopening of Las Vegas isn’t going to be fast or simple. But, there are very positive signs in other areas. The state of Nevada is well into the first phase of its reopening plan, casinos have outlined how they intend to safely reopen with detailed plans and the MGM family of casinos has even announced a major shift in course to welcome back visitors by eliminating parking fees.
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From masks to sanitized chips, distancing between players and more, here’s how a new Las Vegas will likely look when it reopens in a post-shutdown coronavirus landscape.
The return of free parking
Yesterday, MGM announced the (much anticipated) return of free parking at its properties. Before the March closing, self-parking cost as much as $18 per day at the MGM properties. But, when MGM properties such as Bellagio, MGM Grand, Aria and more reopen, self-parking will be free. Valet parking is indefinitely suspended due to coronavirus concerns. There’s no guarantee this lasts forever, but the Bellagio’s website states that free self-parking is being offered as a way to welcome back guests with no timeline regarding future plans or changes.
Caesars has not yet made any announcements regarding parking fees, but this change makes sense.
On its May earnings call, MGM stated that “about 50% of the traffic coming into Las Vegas is from automobiles, and [it thinks] there will be some pent up demand and as the opportunity [to travel again] comes about, [it’ll] definitely open up properties to maximize [its] cash flow.”
While a Vegas with fewer fees will be a welcome change for all visitors, if drive-in guests, who are obviously bringing their cars, will likely comprise much of the first wave of visitors, then no parking fees is a logical way to cater to those visitors.
Related: How to avoid resort fees in Vegas
All eyes on a June reopening
Nevada has entered the first phase of its reopening plan as of May 9. This means that some businesses, such as dine-in restaurants and retail shops, can again welcome a capped number of guests. However, casinos were not included in the first phase of the state’s reopening plan. Officials plan to carefully monitor the impact of a phased reopening on coronavirus cases and hospitalizations for at least 14 days. This means that a pre-Memorial Day-weekend start to the next phase is all but ruled out.
Some casino resorts, such as Treasure Island (now in the Radisson family), are still hoping for a Memorial Day weekend opening, but most have now turned their sights to June.
Within the MGM family of resorts, Bellagio and New York-New York are both accepting reservations beginning June 1, with MGM Grand opening its books for stays beginning June 4.
Wynn Las Vegas pushed hard for a Memorial Day weekend reopening, but it too has pushed that day back to at least June 1. Caesars is still accepting reservations for stays beginning May 29.
The reopening process will be staggered
The Las Vegas Strip is home to some of the country’s highest-capacity hotels. For example, the MGM Grand and Venetian/Palazzo each have close to 7,000 rooms, making them two of the largest hotels in the world.
Given how massive these casino resorts are, it would be unlikely that The Strip would reopen all at once.
On its recent earnings call, MGM Resorts painted a picture of a staggered opening within its portfolio of resorts. The company said that it’s looking at reopening New York-New York (a smaller hotel, comparatively speaking with around 2,000 rooms) on one end of the spectrum and Bellagio at the other end first. From there, it would make decisions on what other resorts reopen slowly and based on economics.
As of mid-May, those two resorts, along with the MGM Grand, are the only MGM resorts accepting hotel reservations.
And even those hotels may not open up all their rooms at once. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bill Hornbuckle, the acting president and CEO of MGM Resorts International, stated that the Bellagio would initially reopen with only 1,200 of the property’s 4,000 rooms in service.
This is likely for a couple of different reasons. A phased reopening could help control the flow of people returning to The Strip, per direction from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, as to not overwhelm progress made with COVID-19. It’s also likely that initial visitor demand will be much softer than normal, so there simply won’t be a need for dozens of hotels all located next to each other with thousands of available rooms in each.
Big changes for gambling
Gambling is the lifeblood of Las Vegas.
The trend in recent years has been for Vegas to emphasize revenue from dining and entertainment, alongside gambling, but betting is still synonymous with Vegas. However, casinos weren’t designed for maintaining six feet of distance from other people. With slot machines packed in side-by-side and groups of curious onlookers crowding behind blackjack and craps tables, casinos have to make changes — big ones — to provide a safer environment for gamblers.
So, what exactly can you expect when The Strip flips the lights back on?
For one, the days of crowding the hottest craps table on the casino floor are over … for now. The recommendations from the Gaming Control Board are that there is a limit of six players per craps table, three per blackjack table, four per roulette or poker table and that slot machines are spaced out, or that every other chair is removed. In addition, the board’s plan limits a property’s occupant to no more than 50% of its normal limit.
While the Nevada Gaming Control Board has laid out a set of 18 specific guidelines and regulations for reopening casinos, individual properties must submit their plans to the NGCB for approval before they can reopen.
Individual casino resorts have put forward their plans for what casinos will look like — at least initially — when they reopen. Wynn Las Vegas has released a 23-page “Health and Sanitation Program” that outlines how Wynn properties (which include the adjacent Encore) will operate upon their reopening.
New casino protocols cover five main areas including the casino cage, slot operations, table games operations, poker operations, and race and sportsbook operations. You can read the full list of protocols here, but to put it into perspective, the “table games operations” section alone has two subsections with 27 individual regulations and guidelines between them.
MGM has outlined a seven-step plan that includes required masks for employees and free masks to guests who are encouraged, though not required, to wear them. It also includes increased reliance on digital solutions to reduce touchpoints, such as digital room keys available via an online app check-in and menus available by scanning QR codes.
Wynn casinos will implement a cleaning and sanitization plan that includes regular sanitization of guest counters, slot machines, card tables and card shufflers plus the placement of hand sanitizer throughout the casino floors, outside entrances and next to all ATMs.
At the roulette table, the wheel head, ball and dolly will be sanitized every time a new dealer enters a game. When a guest leaves a table game, the rail and seat will be sanitized. Each new shooter at the craps table will have the dice sanitized before picking them up.
Wynn guests will be encouraged to wear masks and sanitize their hands before and after each game they play. A chip-cleaning policy is currently being reviewed.
Another major Las Vegas casino resort, The Venetian, which includes the Venetian tower, the Palazzo tower and the Venezia tower has outlined its “Venetian Clean” initiative, which includes near-constant disinfecting of table game areas, slot machines, electronic kiosks and chairs. And, like the Wynn, the Venetian will rearrange its slot machines and table games to allow for social distancing, enforce a three-player maximum per table and install hand sanitization stations and disinfectant wipes throughout the floor. Venetian also says that it will sanitize its chips “approximately every two hours.”
The show must go on, with fewer seats
The Wynn’s La Reve Theater, famous for its “The Dream” aquatic show, will look and feel different after it reopens. The theater itself will undergo daily sanitization, shows will only run once per day, guests will be spaced out and theater capacity controls will be in use to enforce social distancing, among other measures.
Shows at MGM Resorts, which include Cirque du Soleil productions like “O” at the Bellagio, “Ka” at MGM Grand, Michael Jackson One at Mandalay Bay and more have been canceled at least through June 30. On the recent earnings call, the company has said it can eventually host events again, potentially in larger spaces than they normally would have utilized to keep attendees spread out.
Related: Best day trips from Las Vegas
The pool party is over … for now
In the last couple of decades, as Las Vegas shifted from strictly a gambler’s paradise to a more general entertainment destination (albeit one on steroids), nightlife has taken a more central role in the city. One of the more famous aspects of this “nightlife” ironically happens during the middle of the day: the pool party.
Imagine concert-sized crowds packed into a single pool sipping frozen cocktails while watching the hottest DJs perform a set in the middle of the afternoon. Doesn’t sound like it fits into social-distancing guidelines, does it?
While pools will reopen when the resorts do, the party as we knew it is also over … for now. The pools will adhere to social-distancing guidelines with cabanas and groups of loungers being spaced out to maintain proper distance. Additionally, pool areas will undergo a strict cleaning regimen throughout the day. The gaming board’s plan includes the mandated ongoing closure of both nightclubs and day clubs.
At Wynn resorts, loungers and cabanas will be thoroughly cleaned after each use and cabanas will be pressure washed each night; the towel desks, entry points and other counters will be cleaned at least hourly; and lifeguard posts will be cleaned at each rotation.
The Venetian, while not going into as much detail, reiterated that its pools are treated daily with antibacterial and antiviral treatments and that its pool chairs will be separated to comply with social distancing protocol.
What about masks?
Resort properties will strongly encourage guests to utilize face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). The Venetian plans to equip all of its rooms with a “Venetian Clean” pack that will contain hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, gloves and a face mask.
At Wynn resorts, employees will be required to wear masks and guests will be asked to wear masks while on the property. The resort will provide masks for both groups.
Unsurprisingly, masks pose a unique challenge for casinos, who in the past have relied heavily on video surveillance for safety and fraud prevention. The Venetian says that “For added safety, masks that obscure the entire face are prohibited,” and Wynn has said that “All guests wishing to gamble will be requested to briefly lower their masks for age and identification purposes in compliance with Nevada gaming requirements.”
Clearly, face masks will be a fixture in some casinos on the Las Vegas Strip for the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen, however, how — or if — they’ll impact safety and security within casinos. Interestingly, face masks were notably absent from the recent marketing video put out by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Related: Where to buy face masks
Temperature screenings and sanitation
Just like at non-gaming hotels, casino resorts will beef up their hygienic measures to keep guests and employees safe. Wynn resorts will install “noninvasive thermal cameras” at each entry point, and “Any person displaying a cough, shortness of breath or other known symptoms of COVID-19 or a temperature above 100.0°F will be discreetly offered a secondary screening” by staff donning masks and eye protection.
Venetian resorts will implement the same procedures, with those who show a temperature of over 100.4°F undergoing a further medical assessment and being directed to other medical care.
Of course, sanitization and disinfection will be central to the plans of all major resort casinos. As was mentioned throughout this story, stations dispensing hand sanitizer, regular employee-provided disinfecting of public spaces and other customer-facing areas, and access to disinfecting wipes and other PPE will be located all around the resort and casino grounds.
No more self-service buffets
Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas without the famous buffets, right? Well, it might have to be.
At least in the medium term, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see self-serve buffets return. MGM resorts closed buffets at all its Las Vegas properties before states began shutting down, and since then they’ve been suspended elsewhere and will be for the foreseeable future.
The real question with buffets isn’t when they’ll come back, but if.
In a post-coronavirus world, buffets seem like exactly the kind of situations that people will avoid due to the large number of people congregating around — and breathing on — food in a confined space. In any buffet-type situation, such as a Player’s Club, expect to see snacks and beverages served by staff upon request, as opposed to self-service.
In fact, part of MGM’s reopening plan is indeed the suspension of self-service buffet food service as employees will serve guests. There will also be prepackaged food options available.
However, at least one Vegas mega-buffet may not have given up on the concept of all-you-can-eat prime rib and chilled crab legs entirely. The Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace was already planning a multimillion-dollar renovation when COVID-19 hit, and according to Eater Las Vegas, may have tweaked its renovation plans recently as it pushes forward. As pointed out by Eater Las Vegas, many of the serving stations at the buffet were already individually prepared and plated by staff behind the corners, so that type of serving trend may continue.
Related: Buffets closing due to coronavirus
So, will lower prices return?
If Vegas reopens this summer — as it seems to be attempting — expect to find lodging deals as hot as the desert temperatures outside. Summer was already a time to find great deals in Vegas, but we expect to see much-better-than-normal offers as The Strip reopens. We’re already seeing offers for top resorts, such as Bellagio at or below $100 per night through June and July when logged into players club accounts. It’s likely that those who gamble will see targeted comp offers go back to the offers of yesteryear when even moderately profitable gamblers were given offers of multiple free nights.
Will resort fees go on a hiatus? That would be nice and isn’t impossible, but as coronavirus was worsening in the weeks before the shutdown, we saw multiple Caesars casinos increase resort fees. But the weeks before the shutdown also saw sub-$100 rates at the higher-end resorts that typically price at a few times that amount.
However, we have seen MGM drop parking fees already and Sahara is offering rates with no parking or resort fees to residents of many states, so anything is possible.
Las Vegas is feeling the pinch of the economic catastrophe caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus even more acutely than other places, due to its reliance on bringing large quantities of people together to mix, mingle, gamble and have a good time.
It is costing the Las Vegas casinos millions of dollars every day that the doors remain shut. There are reports that the MGM properties alone are going through more than 14 million dollars per day during the shutdown.
So while these changes are massive lifts for Vegas, they have every incentive to find a brightly lit path forward and many seem ready to flip the lights back on.
Will the post-shutdown Las Vegas find a way to feel like a carefree, money-flowing party with face masks, designated markers displaying where to stand in line, temperature screenings and constant sanitation? Maybe. The odds aren’t awful given the demand we have seen as casinos in other states begin to shuffle up and deal.
Featured photo by f11photo/Getty Images
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