Labor Day weekend was not a good look for Las Vegas in the COVID-19 era By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports September 8, 2020 at 7:00 pm Ahead of the Labor Day weekend holiday, Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan had a simple directive for casino operators. It was “imperative,” she said, to “adhere to each aspect” of the agency’s health, safety, cleaning, and social distancing protocols “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” I’m not sure everyone heard the message. It’s one thing to require customers to wear facial masks and adhere to social distancing protocols inside the resorts. The challenge is enforcing those same guidelines outside the properties. Along both the Strip and downtown’s Fremont Street Experience, photos and videos from the weekend popped up on social media showing that distancing among visitors was, at best, non-existent. Only a handful of pedestrians watching the Bellagio fountains or lining up to order drinks from outdoor bars sported masks or stood six feet from each other. Many visitors with facial coverings simply wore them tucked under their chins. Meanwhile, several videos taken at Strip resort pool areas also showed a lack of social distancing. Last month, ProPublica published a lengthy investigation on Las Vegas that utilized cellphone data to track visitation to Southern Nevada. The summation, from investigative journalist Marshall Allen, was that Las Vegas is a likely hotbed for the spread of COVID-19 to other parts of the country. This is not the message Las Vegas tourism leaders want to project. Las Vegas wants to be the nation’s tourism and gaming headquarters, not a coronavirus super spreader. The photos and videos shared on Labor Day weekend on the Strip are akin to images that have been viewed from elsewhere around the country this summer that send the wrong message, such as crowded swimming and boating areas in the south, packed beaches in Southern California and Florida, an estimated 300,000-plus at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, and, dare I say, Trump campaign events. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did push out a 15-second spot on Twitter with a pair of bikini-clad women wearing face masks while lounging at the Strat pool. The message: “Mask lines are the new tan lines. Have fun. Be #VegasSmart.” Screengrab from the LVCVA Twitter spot – “Mask lines are the new tan lines. Have fun. Be #VegasSmart.” The LVCVA is now carrying that message through a national advertising campaign that began Monday with two spots under the #VegasSmart tag: Be mindful of your surroundings and thoughtful of others, keep your distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. The trouble for Las Vegas is that pre-COVID-19, the message the tourism and gaming community expressed for more than two decades was largely an effort to set Las Vegas apart from regional casino markets. At the beginning of the year, “What happens here, stays here,” evolved into, “What happens here, only happens here.” Both taglines have a similar idea: come to Las Vegas and do the things you wouldn’t do back home. That idea has now been shelved, at least until we’re past the pandemic. Las Vegas is open for business, albeit relatively quietly, without showrooms or live entertainment attractions. Nightclubs are closed, as are sit down bar top areas. Convention halls and conference centers are ghost towns, with most large events canceled through the end of the year, and restaurants are limited by seating capacity restrictions. Casino floors are open, but with capacity limitations. Slot machines are spaced apart to encourage frequent cleaning and social distancing, and table games have reduced seating. Some tables include plexiglass dividers to separate guests from the dealers. Signage on the Las Vegas Strip from April. No one wants to see these type of messages again./Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports Las Vegas hotel rooms – those that have been made available – are running around 50% capacity with room rates that, in July, were priced more than 15% below 2019 figures. The LVCVA didn’t predict the economic impact for Labor Day due to the uncertain indicators. For example, there were nearly 36% fewer flights last weekend compared to 2019’s Labor Day. However, based on anecdotal information – traffic on Interstate 15 heading south was backed up for 12 miles Monday morning – thousands of Southern Californians enjoyed a Las Vegas weekend. It’s unclear whether or not they followed COVID-19 protocols. Such is the conundrum. The resort industry suffered through a 78-day shutdown. Properties are still not fully reopen; a handful of casinos are still closed. Nevada’s restricted gaming industry has been diminished by tavern and bar closures. Layoffs and unpaid furloughs are commonplace. Las Vegas wants visitors to come back and have fun. It just wants them to do it safely. Labor Day is considered the summer’s last hurrah. Hopefully, it won’t be Las Vegas’ last gasp. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.