Despite loosened restrictions and new protocols, Las Vegas’ 2020 events calendar is dead By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports October 3, 2020 at 5:00 am The reaction within Nevada’s gaming community last week to the lifting of the state’s 50-person cap on public and private gatherings ranged from mild skepticism to muted optimism. A few hours before Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the changes that expanded the ceiling to 250 people, MGM Resorts International unveiled a comprehensive conference attendee COVID-19 health and safety plan, which includes a high-volume coronavirus screening protocol. The company wants to restart its convention and meetings business across its U.S. portfolio, but primarily in Las Vegas. MGM operates more than 3.9 million square feet of convention and meeting space on the Strip, as well as three sports arena/concert venues. A vibrant convention and meeting sector is key to Las Vegas’ overall recovery from the pandemic. Both MGM Resorts CEO Bill Hornbuckle and Las Vegas Sands President Rob Goldstein said as much this summer. However, major conventions, tradeshows, and special events have all canceled or postponed their upcoming dates. With three months left in the year, 2020 is all but dead in this important tourism segment. The governor’s plan allows venues that normally accommodate more than 2,500 persons to operate at 10% capacity. Smaller locations can be at 50% capacity or 250 people, whichever is less. The plan might mean a few small business or event gatherings that could fill some hotel rooms and restaurant seats and allow at least some convention employees to return to work. Las Vegas might see a handful of showrooms attempt to reboot with a scaled-down, socially distanced, mask-wearing audience. Larger venues, such as the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, could have fans attend games. UNLV’s football team submitted a seating proposal for its four Mountain West Conference home games with limited attendance. The school is awaiting approval from the Southern Nevada Health District and the state’s Department of Business and Industry. Entrance to the Sands Expo in Las Vegas on June 4, 2020, the day casinos reopened after a 78-day shutdown/Photo by Howard Stutz/CDC Gaming Reports However, Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis has said it’s a full stadium or empty – nothing in between – when it comes to fan attendance at his NFL team’s games. We’ll see if that changes. A day after Sisolak announced the new guidelines, Las Vegas tourism authorities said August marked the fifth straight month that the Strip registered a zero for convention and meetings attendance. With approximately 11.9 million square feet of conference facilities in the market, that’s a lot of empty space and leaves an eerily quiet presence. Goldstein, whose Las Vegas Sands operates the 1.7-million-square-foot Sands Expo, wasn’t kidding in July when he said, “We’re in a world of hurt here in Las Vegas.” Hornbuckle correctly predicted in June that MGM’s 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena wouldn’t see an event for the rest of the year. Las Vegas convention attendance is down more than 63% through August. But it won’t return full scale until the airline industry stages a comeback. Not everyone can drive to Las Vegas. McCarran International Airport said passenger volume is down 56% through August. The decline in international travel is 72.2%, so there is plenty of room for improvement. Sisolak said the new directives “will allow Nevada to continue on the responsible path of economic reopening and recovery.” During a news conference, he directly asked convention organizers to keep their conferences in-state, even if it means scheduling later in 2021. “Before you make a decision, understand that Nevada is not only open for business, but we plan to be open for the long term,” he said. The National Finals Rodeo moved from Las Vegas to Dallas instead of holding the 10-day competition in an empty Thomas & Mack Arena during December. However, if the virus is in the rearview mirror next year, the NFR will return. With all due respect to Dallas, only Las Vegas has enough showrooms and theaters to host the leading country-music acts that come along with the NFR. Las Vegas spurred the NFR’s evolution into more than just a rodeo. During August, Strip gaming revenues fell more than 39% for the second straight month. Visitation was down 57% from a year ago, but up 6.9% over July. Gaming revenues are down 45.8% through August and visitation is off 55.3%. What do these numbers mean? Las Vegas visitors are slowly coming back, but they need more activities than just gambling. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.