Nevada’s casinos want to be among the first businesses to reopen next month

Closed—for now.
Closed—for now.
Image: AP Photo/John Locher
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In an April 19 open letter to Nevada governor Steve Sisolak asking to reopen the state’s casinos next month, Matt Maddox, the CEO of Wynn Resorts, turned to the poetics of Zen : “The only way to cross this river is one stone at a time, and we need to put our feet in the water before it is too late.”

With US president Donald Trump handing power over to states to establish when and how they should handle the reopening of certain businesses, Maddox and other casino operators are calling on Sisolak to “slowly begin to reopen [casinos] with extensive safety measures in place” in mid- to late May. The state’s infection rate is among the country’s lowest, with a total of less than 4,000 cases, they argue, while hospital beds are sitting empty.

For operators, the costs of keeping these casinos shut are mounting, wrote Maddox. For every day that the company’s hotels and casinos remain closed, Wynn Resorts is burning through $3 million to cover workers’ wages and estimated tips. May 15 is the last day these workers will be paid, with a rough cost of $180 million for the two months’ shutdown.

Though amenities such as nightclubs and buffets are unlikely to open with them, analysts seem bullish about the possibility gambling may resume: In a report published April 17, John DeCree, an analyst with Union Gaming, suggested that large venues such as casinos might be among the first businesses allowed to reopen, if they introduced social distancing protocols. These might include having fewer available seats per table, keeping poker rooms closed, and switching off every other slot machine. Masks for dealers and gamblers alike is all but a given.

Wynn Resorts’ own “health and sanitation program” suggests using thermal cameras at the point of entry to identify customers with a temperature over 100 degrees Farenheit. The company also plans to put “touchless” hand sanitizer dispensers throughout its venues and to ramp up sanitation protocol.

Sisolak, a first-term Democrat, has given few indications about whether he will acquiesce to these requests. Speaking to press on April 16, he acknowledged that social distancing seemed to be working well in the state but refused to give any indication on whether measures would continue beyond the end of the month. “I’m putting the lives of my fellow Nevadans ahead of dollars,” he said. “I don’t have a benchmark date yet.”

But many of those fellow Nevadans say they’d like to make that decision themselves. Hundreds of “Operation Nevada” demonstrators gathered on April 18 in front of the state office building  in Las Vegas, waving American flags, Trump banners, and signs reading “Open Nevada.” Similar protests were held in front of the state capitol building in Carson City. On its website, the group announced plans for future rallies—but encouraged protesters to employ “safe social distancing and sanitary standards.”