‘Unprecedented’ Las Vegas Strip casino closure is one for the history books By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports March 31, 2020 at 7:31 pm Historians don’t like to use the word unprecedented. “We try to avoid it,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has authored several books on the gaming capital, including 2005’s Las Vegas: A Centennial History. However, Green has found himself forced to use the usually verboten term in the past few weeks. The shutdown of the Las Vegas Strip – part of a statewide closure of casinos and non-essential businesses ordered on March 17 by Governor Steve Sisolak in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic – has silenced the heartbeat of the nation’s casino industry. Image from the Wynn Las Vegas Twitter feed – closed properties send messages. Strip casinos produced nearly $6.59 billion in gaming revenue in 2019, more than half of Nevada’s $12 billion in gaming revenue and a larger total than every other state but California, where tribal casinos produced more than $8.4 billion in casino winnings according to the most recent study. That’s why Green is willing to describe the situation as “unprecedented.” A shutdown of Strip casinos has happened once before: 57 years ago, and for just 17 hours. On November 25, 1963, the nation held a day of mourning for the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated three days earlier. Then-Nevada Governor Grant Sawyer suggested the casinos go silent in honor of the fallen president. Green said not all casinos complied. Sawyer did not order a shutdown, and a handful of Strip casinos just closed their gaming areas for the funeral, which lasted three hours. It was a much different era on the Strip. Tweet from Las Vegas photographer Jeff Scheid. Howard Hughes hadn’t yet bought up half the Strip, and Caesars Palace was just a figment in the mind of Jay Sarno. The Rat Pack-era properties – Dunes, Sahara, Last Frontier, Thunderbird, Flamingo, Sahara – weren’t very large. Green added that a handful of casinos around the state stayed open despite the somber day. The only other time Nevada casinos closed was April 14, 1945, for the funeral of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of course, Las Vegas and the Strip are far different places in 2020. Nevada is also no longer the only state with legalized gaming. The American Gaming Association said this week that 982 commercial and Indian casinos in more than 40 states are closed on orders from governors, regulatory agencies and tribal gaming authorities. But it’s the closing of the Strip – a roughly four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard – that has become an eerie sight and attracted international attention. Southern Nevadans have ventured out – keeping within social distancing guidelines – to gaze at and photograph the empty roadway, vacant sidewalks and closed properties that recreate New York City, Paris, ancient Rome, and Venice. Police barriers block many of the entrances. Three of the nation’s largest convention centers are closed, more than 100,000 luxury hotel rooms and suites are empty, and slot machines and gaming tables sit in silence. For now, it appears the Strip’s closure could last through April. Most gaming analysts are forecasting zero gaming revenues from the nation’s largest casino market for more than six weeks. “While we acknowledge many operators have noted openings as early as mid-April, we expect this will be delayed,” Macquarie Securities gaming analyst Chad Beynon told investors in a Sunday research note. Beynon doesn’t expect the “pent-up thesis” to come into play. Even when the casinos reopen, gaming customers might not be ready yet to get back into the action. The empty Las Vegas Strip/Photo via Chris Sieroty “Distance spacing restrictions, consumer wealth destruction, and unemployment may lead to a more U-shaped recovery, in our view,” Beynon said. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Bailey Schulz reported Tuesday that some Strip resorts are accepting bookings for April 16, the day after Sisloak’s shutdown is supposed to end. Many believe the closure will be imposed for another two weeks beyond that date. In 2007, Strip casinos produced a record $6.8 billion in gaming revenue. The recession hit a year later, and between 2008 and 2010, Las Vegas gaming revenues declined more than 15%. Las Vegas was looking positive in 2020, with gaming revenues up almost 4% in the first two months of the year. But the city came to a crashing halt just as the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament was ready to begin. Construction is continuing on two all-new resort casinos, an expansion to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the $2 billion Allegiant Stadium, home of the relocated Las Vegas Raiders, a move that brings the National Football League to the world’s gaming capital. But the coronavirus has left the community in a state of flux. “That’s why this is unprecedented,” Green said. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.