January 12, 2021 update:
On Nov. 22, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak implemented a three-week statewide pause and tightened capacity restrictions due to rapidly escalating COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. These include even further reduced capacity at some locations. The changes went into effect on Nov. 24, but a few weeks later, Sisolak announced a three-week extension of the protocol due to case numbers. As of January 11, this pause has been extended yet again for 30 days:
- All restaurants must be capped at 25% capacity (down from 50%). This includes both indoor and outdoor dining. Restaurant reservations will also be required – no walk-ins allowed. There is a strict limit of 4 persons per table. Some Strip favorites, such as Wicked Spoon buffet at The Cosmopolitan, have temporarily closed so it’s a good idea to check on restaurant status and availability beforehand, as well as secure a reservation.
- Tourists and locals are required to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors if they are not near-immediate members of their households.
- Capacity for shows has been reduced to 25% capacity (down from 50%) or 50 people – whichever is lower. All MGM Resorts shows have temporarily closed. Caesars was steadily working on keeping shows open, but the team behind “Absinthe” at Caesars Palace decided to temporarily close once again. “Piff The Magic Dragon” at Flamingo and “Tape Face” at Harrah’s will continue.
- Capacity for casinos is 25%.
- The following hotels have an adjusted weekday schedule, with many only being open Thursday-Sunday: Encore, The Linq, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, The Park MGM and Planet Hollywood. The Rio recently reopened Thursdays through Mondays only.
- Four Seasons and Delano at Mandalay Bay and NoMad at Park MGM are open all week long. The Palazzo has closed hotel rooms seven days per week for now.
September 29, 2020
A slow return for Las Vegas
Las Vegas is (very) slowly returning to a place so many love and remember. The latest return to normal is the reopening of all bars. Nevada’s COVID-19 task force recently announced that all Las Vegas bars could reopen for business.
“All bars” is the key part of the key change as the city continues to reopen. Previously, bars that serve food could be open as restaurants. The actual bars remained closed, but the dining tables in the restaurant and around the bars could be used. Now all bars in Las Vegas are allowed to open.
Bars are different in Las Vegas than most cities. These are more than a place to grab a drink. Every casino in Las Vegas has at least one gaming bar. While the returns for video poker and slot machines aren’t the best, easy access to complimentary beverages for players is a large part of the Vegas experience.
Casino bars aren’t the only bars to reopen. Local taverns and bars around Las Vegas are also open, whether or not they serve food. Bartop gaming machines like Buffalo Grand Slots are a massive revenue generator for these venues. While locals mostly frequent bars off the Strip, there are plenty of tourists who enjoy playing the machines outside of the traditional casino environment.
Allowing all bars to be open again will lessen some of the confusion for both tourists and locals. Previously, some bars were open while others were closed or only partially open, with complex reasoning. Additionally, restrictions on the size of gatherings have been loosened.
A Cliff’s Notes guide to what’s open in Vegas
Most visitors come to take advantage of a good room deal, treat themselves to some cocktails and a great meal, take in a show and perhaps gamble. If you need to know what’s open in Vegas, here’s a quick-scan guide:
- Casino capacity limit: Fifty percent of the entire building, including hotel rooms, restaurants, bars and gaming areas. This may be confusing, as hotel room capacity may be greater than 50% of rooms available. However, this doesn’t mean the building is above 50%. Most of the signature properties on the Strip are open, but, for example, Encore is only open for hotel stays Thursdays through Mondays beginning Oct. 19. Additionally, Planet Hollywood just reopened on Oct. 8, and The Cromwell is still closed. Every casino-resort is doing things differently. As for gaming, aside from some social distancing spacing and plexiglass, there will be plenty of options.
- Restaurant capacity limit: Restaurants in Las Vegas are open for both indoor and outdoor dining. Indoor dining must be at 50% capacity. That said, many restaurants on the Strip have chosen to operate at reduced days and hours due to slower demand, if they’re open at all. Some restaurants and bars will take walkup customers and others won’t. Please check with your desired restaurant in advance for the latest information; it might be easier to make a reservation in advance just to be safe.
- Bar capacity limit: Fifty percent of capacity for the room. Again, just because bars can open doesn’t mean your favorite Vegas bar is open. A majority of them are, especially popular ones like Chandelier Bar, but it’s best to check in advance to make sure a bar will be open when you’re looking for where to go. Nightclubs are still closed.
- Show capacity limit: Fifty percent of capacity for the room. While ambient entertainment (by musicians, singers or otherwise) is becoming slightly more prevalent, the good news is Vegas entertainment companies are figuring out how to bring back some signature shows in a safe way.
For those debating whether or not it’s worth it to book a trip to Las Vegas right now, let’s take a look at the status of these openings in more detail.
Vegas is dead … or long live Vegas?!
Casinos reopening in June was just the beginning. Opening all bars is another step forward. Las Vegas returning to the original Sin City that so many people love is still a while away, as with all tourist hub destinations.
Having said that, regional visitors are still driving in to take advantage of cheap hotel rooms and enjoy what the city has to offer. An analyst from JP Morgan said that Caesars’ Las Vegas properties were at 95% capacity on Labor Day weekend. That’s close to normal without the usual fly-in traffic.
Hotels being busy might sound good, but the revenue generated for each available hotel room in Las Vegas is way down from last year. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority (LVCVA), RevPAR (revenue per available room) was down 61.6% in July from the previous year.
Generating $44.37 per room isn’t great, but it’s a start. Much like hotel room occupancy, an increase in hotel room rates should be seen when the LVCVA releases more recent data.
Hotel occupancy in July was particularly low during the weekdays since there was no convention traffic. Midweek occupancy was only 36.9%. Weekends were busier, with 54.4% occupancy rates. While not great, the news from Labor Day weekend is a sign that visitors within driving distance are still visiting Las Vegas while room rates are lower than usual.
Still, Las Vegas isn’t the same with the emerging (and odd) trend of random able-bodied people riding scooters around the Vegas Strip. There has also been some increased crime on the Vegas Strip. Neither may be new, but they’re getting more publicity than usual, in part because there’s not much happening outside of people driving into Las Vegas for the weekend and getting wild.
Las Vegas casinos are still reopening
Most, but not all, Las Vegas casinos reopened in June. Park MGM, Planet Hollywood and Tropicana all recently reopened. The Planet Hollywood casino will operate 24/7, but the hotel will only take weekend reservations from Thursday to Sunday. The property is slowly reopening restaurants. For now, guests might not find their favorite eatery ready when they visit.
Caesars reopened The Linq hotel for weekends to accommodate the high traffic from people driving to Las Vegas for those days. The Cromwell is the only Caesars property on the Vegas Strip that hasn’t reopened yet. Layoffs have hit the Las Vegas casino industry particularly hard.
Most Las Vegas buffets remain closed
Buffets have long been a staple of visiting Las Vegas. That’s not quite the case right now. In fact, buffets may no longer be a Vegas tradition — especially for those who only stay on the Strip.
COVID-19 might have been the beginning of the end for buffets in Las Vegas. Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan — which has always been popular due to its format that involves less self-serving and more small plates — is currently the only buffet open on the Strip.
The Buffet at Wynn has always been one of the more popular ones, and the team behind the scenes had to get creative when opening amid the pandemic. It reopened as an all-you-can-eat concept with waitstaff delivering food. The high price point ($40 for lunch/brunch) and lack of interest in the concept led to Wynn closing the buffet again.
Prior to buffets in Las Vegas closing due to COVID-19, Caesars Entertainment was already discussing closing some or all of its buffets in Las Vegas and around the country. Caesars CEO Tom Reeg says buffets are inefficient and wasteful and casts doubt that buffets will return. Even Station Casinos CEO Tilman Fertitta doubts the future of buffets, saying “Buffets generate traffic, but they were definitely loss leaders.”
Casino operators are reevaluating everything about their business as they reopen. Buffets may not make the cut in a post-COVID-19 casino in Las Vegas.
Smaller, less spectacular entertainment
Las Vegas is an event-driven town. Big concerts, residencies and live sports help make Sin City the entertainment capital of the world. That’s not the case right now. The Las Vegas Raiders played their very first game to an empty Allegiant Stadium.
The capacity limit for gatherings in Las Vegas was only 50 people, but that changed when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced on Sept. 29 that beginning Oct. 1, the number would increase to 250 people max or 50% capacity, whichever is fewer.
Additionally, Sisolak announced that if groups want to hold larger events in larger venues, including indoor entertainment showrooms, they can present a COVID-19 plan with proper protocols and subsequently get approved if it meets a list of strict requirements. This could mean some shows will come back sooner rather than later. Not coincidentally, MGM Resorts already has a public plan for meetings and conventions.
It’s going to take some time before the biggest and most popular forms of entertainment return to Las Vegas to play in front of thousands of fans.
Some entertainment in Las Vegas exists, but it is much less spectacular than visitors may be used to. While arenas and theaters are closed, there are more intimate forms of entertainment. Supper clubs like Rose.Rabbit.Lie at the Cosmopolitan and Mayfair at Bellagio continue to bring some entertainment to guests eating dinner.
Lounge acts like “Big Elvis” Pete Vallee at Harrah’s perform for relatively modest-sized crowds around Las Vegas. The Cosmopolitan is beginning to have bands perform at one of its hidden lounges, Barbershop Cuts & Cocktails. Caesars recently reopened a handful of smaller shows like Absinthe. MGM Resorts will reopen shows like Carrot Top for up to 250 people in November.
This is all ambient entertainment from people singing or playing an instrument far from the crowds (in which people are six feet apart.) The slow return of real robust entertainment is part of the long road back to Las Vegas becoming the vacation destination so many remember.
Spas, salons and pools are open
Social distancing is in effect throughout the state of Nevada. In Las Vegas, guests stand six feet from one another at the Bellagio conservatory and botanical garden display. Gamblers are separated by plexiglass at the table games inside of the casino. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise to many visitors that spas and salons are open.
Visitors to Las Vegas can enjoy massage treatments at a spa or get their hair and nails done in the salon. Larger spa companies like Canyon Ranch at The Venetian detail health and safety protocols online.
Not all spas and salons in Las Vegas casinos are open yet. Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas are the only two Caesars Las Vegas properties with open spas and salons. And the amenities are open for limited hours. The company details its health and safety plan for spas, salons and pools along with the other amenities at its properties.
Pool parties never opened this year. Some dayclubs reopened with mellow, reimagined concepts. Hotel pools are also open. Guests must wear a mask and remain socially distanced from others outside of their travel party before getting into the water.
Weekdays are slower than ever
There are two different Las Vegas experiences. The weekends (Thursday-Saturday) have always been when most tourists visit to party. Meanwhile, weekdays (Sunday-Thursday) are a bit more chill, with mostly business travelers in Las Vegas for meetings and conventions.
This remains the case as Las Vegas continues to reopen; however, there’s a major difference during the weekdays. Tourists continue to drive in for weekends, but the slow days during the week are much slower than usual.
The 50-person capacity limit has brought conventions, conferences and meetings to a screeching halt. For reference, according to the LVCVA, 0% of all guests in Las Vegas were visiting for a convention in July. With Sisolak largely lessening restrictions on gatherings beginning Oct. 1, perhaps some meetings, conventions and events can be preserved within the next year.
Hotel room capacity is much lower from Sunday through Thursday. Some venues and amenities aren’t even open during the weekdays. The two Caesars spas and salons are only open on the weekend. Restaurants at casinos all over Las Vegas might have reduced days and hours. All in all, if you want to visit and get the most out of your trip, come on the weekends, as this is when the majority of venues are open.
Less smoke in the casinos
Everyone inside of a casino must wear a mask. That makes it difficult but not impossible for guests to smoke. In a move to help reduce possible transmission of COVID-19 by smokers, the Cosmopolitan recently banned smoking in public walkways and resort corridors.
That sounds like a bigger deal than it really is. Guests can still smoke in the following locations:
- Video poker and slot machines
- Table games with plexiglass barriers
Think of this as a baby step to help keep some staff and guests healthy and safe.
The Cosmopolitan’s efforts to reduce smoking are dwarfed by those at one MGM Resorts property. Park MGM and NoMad Las Vegas reopened as the only 100% nonsmoking property on the Vegas Strip. Unlike at the Cosmopolitan, no smoking is allowed anywhere inside the property. Smokers can walk across the street to get some fresh air and smoke outside at The Park.
There have been rumors of more casinos following one of the two properties’ smoking policies, but nothing has been announced yet.