Las Vegas back in business after coronavirus casino closure

John Landin, center, celebrates after winning a hand of blackjack during the reopening of The D in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, June 4, 2020.

Nevada casinos reopened at 12:01 a.m. after nearly 80 days of state-mandated closures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Finally, for the first time since March 18, the slot machines are spinning and cards flying at the table games as the gaming industry begins its slow recovery after nearly 80 days of being dormant. 

But Las Vegas will have to walk before it can crawl.

Not all properties are open today as casino companies gradually bring back their brands. MGM Resorts International, for instance, is only opening Bellagio, MGM Grand, New York-New York and Signature this week. Excalibur will follow June 11. And Caesars Entertainment is bringing back Caesars Palace, Flamingo and Harrah’s.

Wynn Resorts pushed back its planned opening to daylight hours in a nod to ongoing nighttime protests over George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. Floyd, a black man, died after a white officer pressed his knee into his neck.

Neighborhood casinos and those in downtown were the first to welcome visitors with most opening at 12:01 a.m. The Strip properties, such as Wynn, were waiting until the morning.

Each property’s reopening plan had to be approved by the Gaming Control Board. The plans included enhanced safety standards, such as limiting the number of players at table games, sanitation stations at every turn, and thermal scans for employees and guests before entering the property. A fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

There are big hopes for recovery from the unprecedented and expensive shutdown prompted by the pandemic.

“There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos, but for the community and the state,” said Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at UNLV. “This is an extremely important moment.”

The first customers to arrive are expected to be area residents, then motorists from nearby U.S. states followed by air travelers.

“The market still relies heavily on air traffic, and the longer stays in Vegas are usually tied to mass social gatherings, including conventions … concerts and fights, all of which may take longer to recover,” UBS analyst Robin Farley said.

Convention halls, nightclubs, swimming pool parties and arena spectacles will remain mostly dark.

“It may be a little different,” MGM Resorts International chief executive Bill Hornbuckle said during a recent walkthrough of the Bellagio casino floor. “But I think it will be memorable, personable and special.”