As the clock struck midnight on June 4, you could almost feel the electric anticipation of people getting ready to finally visit Las Vegas casinos again.
Casinos on the Vegas Strip opened at 8 a.m. and later on June 4. After a quick temperature check at many casinos, gamblers rushed in to place their first bets inside of a casino in nearly three months. While there were celebrations for the first guests at Caesars Palace and Bellagio, the scene was a bit more relaxed.
There was plenty of excitement to check into hotel rooms and hit table games and slot machines but visitors were cautious at first. That changed as the days continued and more guests arrived in Las Vegas from all over the world — and presumably, as the cocktails flowed.
Michael Trager, a visitor at Caesars Palace from London, told PlayUSA that he wanted to come to the reopening of Las Vegas because “I needed to see the reopening of Vegas. This is historic. In addition, in some ways, this pandemic has caused Vegas to change forever.”
The energy on the Las Vegas Strip
There are more than 100 casinos in the Las Vegas area. Only 30 of those casinos are located on the Vegas Strip and not all of those properties are currently open. Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International operate the majority of casinos on the Vegas Strip and are opening properties in phases.
MGM Resorts opened Bellagio, MGM Grand, and New York-New York with limited capacity. Excalibur will open later this week on June 11. MGM Resorts’ acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal he’d like to open Aria by July 4th weekend. He’d like to continue opening MGM properties every two to four weeks after.
Caesars Entertainment started with Flamingo and Caesars Palace. The company opened Harrah’s and The Linq promenade on June 5 due to overwhelming demand. Caesars expects to open The Linq casino, but not the hotel, next. The properties that are open now can offer more hotels and amenities for guests should customer demand continue to increase.
While the atmosphere on opening day at Bellagio was somewhat subdued, Caesars Palace and the Cosmopolitan were just getting started. Guests from California started to arrive on Friday afternoon and they were much more exuberant. Here’s a quick scene from the casino floor at Cosmopolitan on Friday night into Saturday morning.
Las Vegas is officially back. pic.twitter.com/EI3nXs2e5w
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 6, 2020
To mask or not to mask
MGM Resorts and Wynn Las Vegas are offering complimentary face masks for anyone entering their properties. However, most casinos in Las Vegas are not offering free masks for all guests. Casino employees are required to wear face coverings at all times. Casino operators recommend guests wear a face mask but do not require it.
The video above captures a young crowd almost exclusively not wearing face coverings. This wasn’t the case all day. When the sun was still up on the first days of Las Vegas reopening there were noticeably more guests on and off the Vegas Strip wearing masks.
There was one thing in common with the majority of the guests wearing a face covering: the guests wearing masks tended to be older and more susceptible to catching COVID-19. Dru Chai, a visitor from California staying at New York-New York told PlayUSA that he “felt safe after visiting all three MGM Resorts properties that re-opened on June 4, although my experience was different at Bellagio where there were significantly more people compared to MGM Grand and New York-New York.”
Safety at Las Vegas casinos
The Nevada Gaming Control Board gave casinos a detailed list of health and safety policy requirements for reopening. Casino operators aren’t required to share their health and safety plans although many decided to do so before reopening.
The first thing some guests will notice happens right at the doors to enter a casino. Some casinos in Las Vegas — not all — are taking the temperature of guests upon entry. Checking temperatures is a way to see if a guest might have some symptoms of COVID-19. The process takes a couple of seconds but as casinos become busier, there could be a short wait.
The starkest change guests will see are dealers, and all casino employees, wearing face coverings. Sitting down at the tables and machines is also a different experience. There’s more space for social distancing and it’s noticeable with only three seats at blackjack and similar table games.
Craps is limited to six players while roulette tables only have space for four players. Slot machines have either been rearranged to create more space or there are chairs missing from games that might also be turned off.
Social distancing while gambling seems to be off to a good start at the larger casinos that have more room and open tables. Smaller casinos off the Vegas Strip might have some problems with onlookers. The limited space at the table might make gamblers hover while waiting to hop onto a hot craps game.
Social distancing measures could change in the future. For the time being, gamblers didn’t seem to mind having extra elbow room. Gamblers also didn’t mind playing behind plexiglass barriers at the few casinos that have the extra protective measure.
Chai also told PlayUSA “I was impressed that there were hand washing stations, including free masks, gloves, and sanitizing wipes readily available throughout the casino floor. There was an increased level of security, especially at highly trafficked points of entry.”
Even though there are significant safety precautions today, he wonders how long it will last, saying “it will be interesting to see how social distancing will be regulated when crowds significantly increase.”
Las Vegas is reopening slowly
Social distancing on the casino floor is an attempt to keep gaming spaces capped at 50% of capacity. This is mostly an attempt to keep the spread of coronavirus to a minimum. It also affords casino operators the ability to ease into restart their businesses slowly
Casino restaurants also have a 50% capacity limit. Some eateries remain closed while others have limited hours. This should change in the future but the limits are allowing the casino operators to re-learn how to walk before they run on all cylinders again.
Today’s Las Vegas does not offer the same experience as the beginning of March. In addition to limited bars and restaurants, most of the entertainment options that visitors love in Las Vegas have not returned yet.
Nevada venues can only have gatherings of 50 or fewer people right now. Large shows and residencies might return later this year or next year depending on the venue. Nightclubs aren’t open yet either. Pools are open for guests but don’t expect to see dayclubs and pool parties return anytime soon.
While large shows aren’t open, small lounges like Petrossian at Bellagio still offer their signature piano player to entertain its guests.
Is it time to visit Las Vegas again?
Las Vegas casinos are taking reopening very seriously. The thorough health and safety plans are an indication of the measures they’re going through to keep guests safe. It takes two to tango and guests have to do their part to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Many, but not all, casino guests are choosing to go without a face covering since there isn’t a mandate to wear one. The casinos are cleaning surfaces often but that doesn’t mean every surface is germ-free 24-7. While there are sanitizing stations, guests have to use them to do their part.
Anecdotally, those who wear masks are also washing hands often and using sanitizer often. Those not wearing masks might not be washing as frequently.
Wearing masks and cleanliness are personal matters for everyone. The casinos are doing their part and many of the best restaurants are open, albeit with limited menus. Almost every casino employee we’ve come across in the past few days has been happy to be at work and looking to welcome guests back to Las Vegas.
In a strange way, closing down casinos might have led to a way to improve the experience. The great customer service that Las Vegas is famous for is firing on all cylinders and is as good as it has been in years. Casino operators have streamlined and automated many hotel processes so guests can get what they want quicker.
This may not be the same Las Vegas as a year ago but it’s on the way back to being better than ever. It’s just going to take some time to get there.