Businesses open to 50% capacity: 8 things to know about Las Vegas during the pandemic
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information.
Las Vegas one of the world’s most electric cities, turned the lights, fire and fountains back on last June after a several month closure following the declaration of the pandemic. Since then, in the entertainment capital of the world, travelers have headed back to the slots and gaming tables — at least at most of the major resort casinos. Other smaller resort-casinos remain closed or only open on weekends when there are more visitors to the city.
Although the lights are back on, valet parking, congregating at a hot craps table and partying in a packed nightclub or pool still won’t happen again in Vegas for a little while. But, things are steadily improving.
#COVID19 “Roadmap to Reopening” for Nevada. If cases continue to drop the next step will come on May 1, with a transition to local authority.https://t.co/TkQtkaa0ek#Vegas #Coronavirus #ClarkCounty pic.twitter.com/s440oJuHJ4
— Clark County Nevada (@ClarkCountyNV) March 14, 2021
On March 15, 2021, the City of Las Vegas announced on its Twitter account that the vast majority of businesses in Nevada have been allowed to open their doors to patrons at 50% capacity or, for group gatherings, up to 250 people or 50% capacity (whichever is less). The city made this decision following weeks of falling coronavirus transmission and hospitalization rates.
If you’re looking to head to the city for the first time since the pandemic started, you can breathe a bit easier as Vegas Smart gives an overview of COVID-19 safety protocols currently in place across the city which include:
- Keeping your distance, at least 6 feet apart from others
- Mandatory mask-wearing in public
- Hand washing
- Seek medical attention if you feel unwell
“By continuing to wear face coverings, practice social distancing & following all other mitigation measures laid out in our plan, we will put more Nevadans back to work in as safe a manner as possible all while welcoming more and more business back,” stated Nevada Gov. Sisolak on Twitter March 12, 2021.
Much like at other mega-packed destinations, such as Disney World, a full reopening of Las Vegas isn’t going to be fast or simple. Here are eight things to know about visiting Las Vegas right now.
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What is open in Vegas?
Casinos were permitted to resume gaming operations on June 4, 2020, and most businesses, such as dine-in restaurants, retail shops, salons and even bars welcome a capped number of guests.
Reopened casino resorts
With more than 100 casinos in Las Vegas, it can be difficult to pinpoint which venues are currently open or closed. The American Gaming Association has a COVID-19 casino tracker where you can view which casinos are open or closed across the country through an interactive map. The tracker currently shows more than 900 open and 69 closed across the U.S.
For example, in Vegas, some of the open casinos include Treasure Island (now in the Radisson family), Wynn, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage Las Vegas, New York-New York, Caesars, Circus Circus, The D, Golden Nugget, the Venetian, Planet Hollywood, Park MGM, NoMad Las Vegas, Cromwell and more.
A few resort-casinos, such as Encore Resort & Casino and Rio All-Suite Resort & Casino, are closed weekdays but reopen for weekend stays. The Rio reopens for daily stays on March 29. Note that Hyatt plans to renovate and reflag the Rio as multiple full-service Hyatt brands, including a Hyatt Regency.
Travel expert Lee Abbamonte visited Caesars Palace right after its reopening and told this to TPG: “…it’s about 10% as busy as usual. Slot machines are open every other one, craps spacing people out, table games like blackjack have a max of three players it appears. All employees, dealers, etc. are wearing masks, few of any cops and maybe 10% of patrons.” He went on to note that sanitizing stations are located all over the casino and hotel.
Las Vegas pools are synonymous with spring breakers and parties. This year, pools will adhere to social-distancing guidelines with cabanas and loungers spaced out to maintain a safe distance. Additionally, pool areas will undergo a strict cleaning regimen throughout the day. The 50% capacity regulation by the City of Las Vegas will also be enforced.
At Wynn resorts, for example, 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.
MGM Resorts has a list of its current shows that are open, which includes David Copperfield, Carrot Top, Jabbawockeez, Brad Garett’s Comedy Club and Thunder From Down Under. The company stated last fall that it spent the “past several months working closely with health experts and public officials to think through every aspect of these entertainment experiences including wearing masks, ticketing, seating, and serving concessions.”
What hasn’t reopened in Vegas
Some resort casinos
The Las Vegas Strip is home to some of the country’s highest-capacity hotels. For example, the MGM Grand and the Venetian each have close to 7,000 rooms, making them two of the largest hotels in the world. Given how massive these casino resorts are, there simply was no need to reopen all of the casino properties at once.
And even within hotels that do reopen, not all of the rooms may be open at once. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bill Hornbuckle, the acting president and CEO of MGM Resorts International, said 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 and allow for social distancing, according to direction from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, as to not counteract progress made with COVID-19.
Some of the currently closed Vegas casinos include Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Fiesta Henderson Casino & Hotel, Eastside Cannery Casino & Hotel, and Siegel Slots and Suites.
Nightclubs and dayclubs
While bars and restaurants are again open in Nevada, with some restrictions, nightclubs have not yet been permitted to reopen and remain closed with no set reopening date. As mentioned, the infamous dayclub pool parties are also still on hold for now.
Not all restaurants within a given resort are open or open at the same time, so check carefully before assuming your favorite will be open in the immediate term.
Many poker rooms will not reopen with the other gaming operations at this time.
The return of free parking
Not all of the reopened Vegas changes are bad. For example, MGM and Caesars group of casinos have announced the (much anticipated) return of free parking at their properties.
Before the March closing, self-parking cost as much as $18 per day at the MGM properties. But, as the MGM and Caesars properties (such as Caesars, Flamingo, Bellagio, MGM Grand, Aria and more) reopen, self-parking is becoming free. Valet parking is indefinitely suspended due to coronavirus concerns. There’s no guarantee that free parking 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. The Caesars website simply says that self-parking in Las Vegas is free.
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, drive-in guests will likely comprise much of the first wave of visitors — and eliminating parking fees is a logical way to incentivize those visitors.
Related: How to avoid resort fees in Vegas
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. Casinos, however, simply weren’t designed to keep people six feet apart from one another. With slot machines packed in side-by-side and groups of curious onlookers crowding behind blackjack and craps tables, casinos have had to make changes — big ones — to provide a safer environment for gamblers.
But, Vegas is committed to making it work.
The Gaming Control Board has set limits of six players per craps table, three per blackjack table, four per roulette or poker table and to either space out slot machine or remove every other chair. In addition, the board’s plan limits a property’s occupancy 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 have their own plans that were submitted and approved by the board before reopening.
Wynn Las Vegas has released a 23-page “Health and Sanitation Program” that outlines how Wynn properties (including the adjacent Encore) will operate.
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 requires masks for employees and provides free masks to guests, who are 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, mobile check-in and menus available by scanning QR codes.
Wynn casinos have implemented 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 must wear masks and are encouraged to 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 has rearranged 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.”
Related: Best day trips from Las Vegas
What about masks?
Face masks will be a fixture in some casinos on the Las Vegas Strip for the foreseeable future.
The Venetian has equipped all its rooms with a “Venetian Clean” pack that will contain hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, gloves and a face mask. Bellagio seems to have a similar pack available for guests.
— Jeff scheid (@JeffScheid) June 3, 2020
Wynn resorts will provide masks for both employees and guests, while The Cosmopolitan requires mask wearing by both employees and visitors.
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 said, “For added safety, masks that obscure the entire face are prohibited,” and Wynn has said, “All guests wishing to gamble will be requested to briefly lower their masks for age and identification purposes in compliance with Nevada gaming requirements.”
Related: Where to buy face masks
Temperature screenings and sanitation
Just like at nongaming hotels, casino resorts have boosted their sanitation measures to keep guests and employees safe. Wynn has installed “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 degrees Fahrenheit will be discreetly offered a secondary screening” by staff donning masks and eye protection.
Venetian resorts has the same procedures, with those who present a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit undergoing a further medical assessment and being directed to other medical care.
Of course, sanitization and disinfection are central to the plans of all major resort casinos. As mentioned, stations dispensing hand sanitizer, regular disinfecting of public spaces and other customer-facing areas, and access to disinfecting wipes and other PPE is 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 has to be.
It’s unlikely we’ll see self-serve buffets return in any near future. MGM resorts closed buffets at all its Las Vegas properties before states began shutting down, and since then they’ve been suspended elsewhere.
In a post-coronavirus world, buffets are the type of situation many 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.
Part of MGM’s reopening plan is the suspension of self-service buffet food service as employees will serve guests. There will also be prepackaged food options available.
Last June, Wynn experimented with a new style of buffet, which followed the all-you-can-eat concept but guests ordered dishes from a server rather than helping themselves. However, that proved short-lived as The Buffet at Wynn closed a few months later.
“Based upon guest feedback, we found that many guests prefer a more traditional buffet experience over the served all-you-can-eat format,” Wynn said in a statement “We will continue to assess the situation and will make a determination on reopening at the appropriate time.”
But at least one Vegas mega-buffet may not have entirely given up on the concept of all-you-can-eat prime rib and chilled crab legs. 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 as it pushes forward.
Related: Buffets closing due to coronavirus
How cheap is a reopened Vegas?
Summer is usually a great time to find deals in Vegas, and we expect to see better-than-normal offers in the near term. Those who gamble may see targeted offers comparable to the deals of yesteryear when even moderately profitable gamblers were given offers of multiple free nights.
But will resort fees go on a hiatus? That would be nice but isn’t the across-the-board approach so far. In fact, 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.
That said, Sahara is offering rates with no parking or resort fees to residents of many states and we’ve seen offers from the Cosmo with waived resort fees targeted at select guests.
Las Vegas has certainly felt the full blow of the economic catastrophe caused by the spread of the coronavirus even more acutely than many other destinations due to its reliance on bringing large groups of people together to mix, mingle, gamble and have a good time.
It cost the Las Vegas casinos millions of dollars per day that the doors were shut. There are reports that the MGM properties alone were going through more than $14 million per day during the shutdown.
So, while the path to reopening the casino resorts wasn’t short or easy, the lights are back on and Vegas is ready for socially distanced action.
Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.
Featured photo by f11photo/Getty Images
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