Casino reopenings: Panel says safety must come first to bring customers back Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports · May 14, 2020 at 2:00 pm With one mid-range forecast saying U.S. casinos could lose almost half of their 2019 revenue stream over the next 12 months, Wynn Resorts General Counsel Ellen Whittemore and other panelists said Wednesday said the industry has to put safety first if it wants to lure customers back. Whittemore, who spoke at the ICE North America digital conference panel discussion on preparing casinos for reopening during COVID-19, talked about the “gold-standard” protocols outlined by Wynn CEO Matt Maddox, who “has taken the lead on health and safety issues” for reopening Wynn Resort properties in Nevada and Massachusetts. Maddox has said he hopes to open the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore on the Strip by the end of May, perhaps as early as May 26. “We’re very comfortable that we are doing all we can to ensure the safety of our guests and employees,” Whittemore said. “When focus groups have asked our customers when they want to come back to Las Vegas, all of them have identified as their number-one criterion the safety to which they can visit our lovely resorts. This is not only beneficial to our employees’ well-being, but a business imperative to issue these guidelines for health and safety (for physical distancing at slots and gaming tables, sanitation, and disinfecting protocols).” The Culinary Union that represents thousands of casino workers has called on Las Vegas casinos to implement stronger protections of workers and guests. Last week, the Nevada Gaming Commission approved guidelines for opening casinos that would trim capacity in half, require distancing at slots and table games, and that surfaces be cleaned frequently. Wynn, which has opened a COVID-19 testing center for employees, will be checking the temperatures of their workers. Guests will get a thermal screening when they arrive and be supplied with a mask. “We give our employees the comfort we are taking their safety very significantly,” Whittemore said. “We’re quite proud of the steps we’re taking.” Kelly Tucky, the founder of Ithos Strategic Communications, said for casino reopenings to be successful, companies must be “employee-centric” and put worker concerns first, and urged resorts to do a better job with communication. “If a guest feels your employee concerns are not being heard, they’ll make the determination if they will reconnect with you,” Tucky said. “Safety and security are the number-one thing — making sure your people’s (health) are put over profits.” Casino revenues will depend on the reopening of the economy and how much unemployment ticks up from its current rate of 15 percent, according to Michael Soll, president of The Innovation Group, a marketing analysis firm that has released revenue forecasts for the next year. The region of the country will also dictate that, with the Northeast the last to recover, because that area has been hit hardest by the pandemic, he said. The recovery depends on the success of social distancing and what capacity of play and amenities is allowed in casinos, Soll said. The worst-case scenario, based on social distancing and the economy, could mean some casinos would as low as 33 percent of their 2019 revenues and as high as 73 percent. The mid-range would be just above 50 percent, he added. “The recovery is quite dramatic without social distancing in place,” Soll said. “The wide range reflects the uncertainty right now because only about 25 properties have opened, some of them quite small.” Social distancing impacts what casinos can offer, from food and beverage to entertainment, and that will impact the customer experience, said Soll, who added that people need to feel safe, but also like they’re enjoying themselves. The health of the economy will continue to play a big role, he said. “When you look at (people’s) budgets and look at periods such as the Great Recession, we see that play can be restrained for some period of time,” Soll said. As for Las Vegas, Soll said they’re still working on that model forecast. Half of the visitation is from drive-in Southern Californians and neighboring states, but Soll said the Strip is also sensitive to international travel, which accounted for 14 percent of total visitation, with overseas visitors accounting for more than half of that. Soll said international tourists will be reluctant to travel to Las Vegas even after travel restrictions are lifted. That’s why safety is important and should help reattract foreign visitors over time, he said. “The industry has been consistent in its messaging about safety, sanitation, and science, which should set a solid foundation for reassuring international markets once Las Vegas reopens,” Soll said. According to Soll, the more significant Las Vegas markets, such as China, Germany and South Korea, “are reporting very promising trends,” while in others, such as the United Kingdom (the number-one overseas market by visitor volume), the trend of new COVID-19 cases is still on an upward trajectory.