The Vegas Strip returns from a 78-day hiatus, but what toll did the pandemic take?
We know Nevada’s casino industry is reopening shortly after midnight Thursday 4th June following an unprecedented 78-day closure in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly half of the Strip resorts will remain on the sidelines next week, barring last-minute reopening plans.
The resorts that are welcoming back customers face a 50% capacity restriction, have limited restaurant options and will operate under social distancing guidelines that reduce the number of available slot machines and seats at a table game. Employees are required to wear facemasks and customers will have their temperatures checked before they can enter a gaming property.
Similar health and safety protocols, however, didn’t seem to hurt other casino markets. The nation’s gaming industry – nearly 1,000 casinos in 43 states – shut down since mid-March to slow the COVID-19 spread – have been reopening slowly over the past few weeks.
Long lines of customers waited outside tribal casinos in California, Arizona, and Oklahoma when the gaming properties reopened this month.
Mississippi’s casinos were allowed to reopen just before the Memorial Day (25th May) weekend. According to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, the properties took in $5 million more in casino revenues under reduced capacity restrictions compared to a year ago, before coronavirus was even in anyone’s vocabulary.
What’s more astonishing about the total? Mississippi’s largest casino – Beau Rivage in Biloxi – isn’t reopening until Monday.
Full House Resorts CEO Dan Lee, whose Gulf Coast casino saw a 12.3% increase in gaming revenue over the holiday weekend, alluded to a “pent-up demand” by people looking to get out of the house after two months of quarantine.
So could the Las Vegas Strip experience a similar occurrence? Analysts aren’t ready to make bold predictions.
“We have routinely noted that we expect to hear bullish commentary around the return of the gaming patron post casinos reopening,” Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Carlo Santarelli said in a Friday research note discussing the reopening of Louisiana’s casinos. “Anecdotally, this is what we have heard over the past week-plus.”
Santarelli said the data is showing “mixed results,” but the early stages of the reopening “are the easier part” following a long layoff.
“Accordingly, we aren’t taking much from the trends exhibited in the early days,” he said.
But there are positive signs.
Last week, downtown Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens gave away 1,000 one-way airline tickets to Las Vegas, good for June 3-5, with no strings attached other than the person was responsible for their return flights and hotel rooms. Two hours after selling out the promotion, Stevens gave away another 1,000 airline flights.
On Friday afternoon, Caesars Entertainment said it would reopen Harrah’s Las Vegas, in addition to its previously announced plans to open Caesars Palace and Flamingo Las Vegas.
“Initial customer demand to visit the Las Vegas Strip has been much stronger than anticipated,” said Caesars CEO Tony Rodio.
For Las Vegas residents, visiting the Strip – on a bike, on foot, or by car – these two-and-a-half months has been one of curiosity just to see one world’s most photographed thoroughfares, normally packed with tourists, empty as a back-country road.
In April, Las Vegas attracted roughly 107,000 visitors, a month that normally brings in 3.5 million. A similar number is expected when May tourism totals are released.
That all may change starting Thursday.
Still, showrooms and theaters remain dark, convention facilities are absent meetings or conferences, and the doors to some of Las Vegas’ popular restaurants are still locked.
Las Vegas will try and return to normal – whatever that means these days.