Inoculating a casino workforce against COVID-19 could boost a damaged gaming market By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports January 19, 2021 at 10:29 pm Steps were taken in the past week to help Nevada’s battered casino industry recover from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Steve Sisolak prioritized eligibility of frontline gaming and tourism workers in the state’s current coronavirus vaccine distribution schedule Wynn Resorts converted Encore’s convention space into a COVID-19 vaccine distribution center, working with Southern Nevada’s University Medical Center to inoculate Nevadans age 70 and above and the frontline workforce that currently qualifies under the state’s playbook. Gaming on the Las Vegas Strip in the COVID-19 era requires a mask and social distancing. Both moves have similar themes. Protecting workers in the frontlines of Nevada’s largest industry offers a positive statement to potential Las Vegas visitors and convention and meeting planners – the nation’s largest gaming market is open and safe. Encore volunteering its space helps in the COVID-19 inoculation effort that has been criticized nationally as being far too slow. Large, high profile locations around the country, such as sports stadiums and arenas and entertainment venues – even Disneyland in Southern California – are being utilized. What better message to send the image of a Strip resort offering space as a vaccine center? Other properties – as well as casinos in the Las Vegas locals markets – need to mirror Wynn’s effort. Several operators worked with health care providers to offer onsite COVID-19 testing for their workforce. Those spaces could easily be flipped into vaccine clinics to inoculate the general public and, eventually, a property’s workforce. Encore’s idea got picked up in Maryland. Live Casino near Baltimore turned its events center into a clinic Tuesday with the capacity to vaccinate 100 people per hour against COVID-19. “Most casinos want to do it for their employees,” said one Las Vegas gaming source. Strip operators know recovery from the financial devastation caused by COVID-19 may take years to repair. They want to speed up the healing. Nevada’s casino industry suffered through a 78-day shutdown that ended on June 4. But the state’s tourism market has been slow to return due to lack of airline travel and canceled Las Vegas conventions and meetings. The Strip is expected to report 2020 gaming revenue numbers and visitation figures next week that border on 20-year-to-30-year lows. Even the worst point of the Great Recession didn’t cause revenues to fall nearly 45% and tourism to crater by more than 50%. That’s the primary reason behind getting frontline casino, hotel, and tourism workers inoculated quickly against COVID-19. The state’s Gaming Control Board asked casino operators to provide information on the number of potential gaming and tourism employees who could be in line to receive the vaccine once they are prioritized. Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson said the agency wants to provide state and county health officials with as much information as possible regarding potential vaccine distribution. Identification and private information won’t be revealed. It may also gauge how many employees will decline being vaccinated. Las Vegas attorney Mackenzie Warren of McDonald Carano said in an email that employers can generally require employees to be vaccinated as long as it relates to a valid business justification or necessity. Warren said the employer must also explore “reasonable accommodations” based upon disability and religion. “For Nevada resort and casinos, this business necessity test is likely easily met as these workers interact with the general public and are vital to the casino’s operation,” Warren said. “Gov. Sisolak’s recent upgrade of casino and resort employees to be eligible for the vaccine sooner via Nevada’s ‘frontline/essential workforce lane’ seems to bolster the importance and necessity in getting these workers vaccinated.” Culinary Workers Local 226, the state’s largest labor union that represents some 60,000 hospitality industry workers, agrees that vaccinating the casino industry sends the correct message to the tourism world. “The hospitality industry is critical for the well-being of the entire state of Nevada and the Culinary Union is supportive of the governor’s designation of hospitality workers as essential,” the union secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, said in a statement. The union also provided a comment from a Bellagio guest room attendant who said she would “be first in line” when it comes to getting the vaccine. “As hospitality workers, we are on the front lines dealing with customers from all over the world,” said Gladis Blanco, who has worked eight years at the Strip resort. “I would feel peace of mind knowing that my family and I are safe when I get the vaccine.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.