Strip resorts yet to reopen may sit vacant for several more months By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports July 7, 2020 at 7:58 pm The opening of The Mirage in 1989 – the Las Vegas Strip’s first all-new resort in nearly 15 years – proclaimed the start of an unprecedented building boom that changed the skyline of the city and brought some two dozen new properties to the boulevard over the next several decades. Maybe its eventual reopening will provide Las Vegas with a new beacon of hope. The Mirage closed on March 18 when the state’s gaming industry shut down in an effort to slow the quickly spreading coronavirus pandemic. When the green light was given to reopen gaming on June 4, the 3,000-room resort remained shuttered. It’s not an outlier, however. Less than half the Strip’s resorts reopened on the first day, all of them with new health, safety, and cleaning protocols in place, fewer amenities on offer, 50% occupancy restrictions, and mandatory social distancing guidelines. Additional resorts reopened in the lead up to last weekend’s Fourth of July holiday, but it’s become clear that the hotel-casinos that have reopened constitute the hand the Las Vegas gaming industry has been dealt for, at least, the rest of July, and possibly the rest of the summer. Far from dissipating, the pandemic looks to be rapidly gaining its second wind, but many recent visitors to the city have nevertheless acted like Vegas was still Vegas. Videos and photos popped up on social media soon after reopening that demonstrated both a lack of social distancing and the flouting of health and safety guidelines inside Strip resorts. The Mirage on the Las Vegas Strip With COVID-19 numbers spiking in Nevada – Tuesday’s figures marked the 20th straight day that cumulative test positivity has risen in the state – additional safety protocols have gone into place. On June 25, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a directive that masks or facial coverings be worn in all public settings – including casinos. Last week, the Nevada Gaming Control said it had opened 111 regulatory cases against gaming license holders for non-compliance with the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. “Non-compliance with federal, state, local laws, or the health and safety policies constitute a violation of Nevada Gaming Commission Regulation 5.011, which may result in the Board taking disciplinary action against a noncompliant licensee,” said Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan. Consider the move a warning shot across the bow of the casino industry, one carrying a simple message: clean up your act. To their credit, operators seemingly got the message. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, on Monday, reported that both Caesars Entertainment and Las Vegas Sands told employees that wearing a mask was a condition of their employment, and Strip resorts were no longer simply “suggesting” mask-wearing to customers. It’s now mandatory. In April and May, Strip gaming revenues were a combined $7.2 million, reflective of traffic at just one online poker website and some extremely limited mobile sports wagering. A year ago, the gaming revenue figure was just under $1 billion for those two months. Las Vegas visitation was a combined 258,200 tourists for April and May, a drastic drop-off from the more than 7.2 million that visited in 2019. June’s gaming revenue and visitation figures will provide some level of comfort to Las Vegas casino operators, but they won’t move the needle. In March, the Nevada Resort Association predicted recovery from the closures could take up to a year and a half, with the casino industry losing almost $39 billion of economic impact. Nothing close to a full recovery is going to happen while the pandemic still rages. That’s one reason MGM Resorts International, which owns The Mirage, is keeping the property, as well as Park MGM and the non-gaming Vdara, on the sidelines. According to The Mirage’s website, room reservations are being accepted starting Aug. 6, but that could easily change. Caesars Entertainment has reopened five properties and several non-gaming amenities, but four other resorts it operates – Cromwell, Bally’s Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood, and the Rio – remain closed. Casinos also remain closed in the Las Vegas locals’ markets. Boyd Gaming has reopened nine properties in Southern Nevada but is currently holding back on downtown’s Main Street Station and the Eastside Cannery on the Boulder Highway, as well as the small Eldorado casino in Henderson. Station Casinos has reopened six Las Vegas properties but is keeping the locks on four others, including the Palms Casino Resort. Penn National Gaming, which sold Tropicana Las Vegas to real estate investment trust Gaming and Leisure Properties in April but kept the operations through a lease agreement, has not yet reopened the Rat Pack-era Strip resort. Penn spokesman Joe Jaffoni said in an email the company was still determining the short-term business volumes on the Strip. “In the meantime, (Penn) continues to develop reopening protocols to ensure it provides the highest level of safety to its guests and team members,” Jaffoni said. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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