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What Does A Gaming Reopen Look Like in Las Vegas?

We saw it on March 25.

It was something we never thought we’d see: Caesars Palace, empty and dark.

And it’s been that way now for about a month. Turns out, if closing was hard, reopening could be harder, says Caesars Palace president Gary Selesner.

“In some ways, it’s easier to close than reopen ’cause you have to do an awful lot of thinking about what services you’re going to be able to provide to make it a compelling experience for the guest, and make it a safe place for the guest and employees,” he told me a few weeks ago in front of an empty check-in desk next to a deserted gaming floor.

In the weeks since, his company and all the other gaming businesses large and small in Las Vegas are fine-tuning just how to restart Nevada’s economic engine.

“The resort industry’s priority remains the health and safety of our employees, guests and fellow residents, and our members look forward to reopening when the governor and his medical advisory team determine it is safe to do so,” says a statement from the Nevada Resort Association, the local resort industry’s trade group. “We continue to be in close contact with the Governor, the Gaming Control Board and state and local agencies and are monitoring the evolving situation.”

“It’s gonna be a very slow process,” says gaming expert Howard Stutz, the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports.

Stutz says don’t expect all the resorts back all at once.

“What most experts are saying is that we’re gonna see companies like MGM will probably open maybe a couple of properties, and not others. But only small parts of properties. Not all the restaurants are gonna be open. It’s gonna be a while before we see a showroom open,” Stutz says.

And when the opening happens, expect social distancing: fewer people at gaming tables and fewer slots.

“I don’t know if we’re gonna see poker for a while, ’cause you know, poker requires a lot of players,” Stutz said.

The bad news is the Las Vegas economy won’t get healthy until the rest of the world heals, too.

The locals market, less reliant on tourism, may improve first. But with 1-in-10 Nevadans filing for unemployment, that recovery could be gradual too.

The good news is COVID-19 appears to be leveling here in Nevada. The governor’s stay-at-home order expires April 30, but does that mean lights back on May 1?

“The question I think is a good one, and it’s the one that people bring up all the time. But this isn’t a function of the calendar. This is a function of science,” says Jeremy Aguerro, the principal of the Las Vegas consulting firm Applied Analysis.

And that’s the balancing act: Stay closed too long, and more jobs vanish.

Open too soon, and become America’s next COVID-19 hotspot.

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