Nevada casinos to remain open as governor extends COVID-19 mitigation efforts Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · December 14, 2020 at 7:26 am Nevada’s governor said Sunday he will keep the state’s beleaguered gaming industry open, despite skyrocketing COVID-19 infections, as he “desperately tries” to balance public health and the impact on the state’s economy. In an afternoon press conference from Carson City, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he would extend the mitigation efforts that were implemented nearly three weeks ago until Jan. 15. They include stricter mask requirements and 25% percent occupancy limits at casinos, restaurants, bars, recreation areas, and other entertainment options. “I know it’s hard for Nevadans to reconcile why some areas of our economy and public life are restricted while the state’s casinos are open,” Sisolak said. “I get why it’s hard to reconcile that fact.” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak at a press conference in early November Sisolak decided not to take the approach instituted by governors in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois, who ordered full casino closures, all of which could extend into early January. Nevada, which shut down casinos for 78 days starting March 18 during the outbreak of the pandemic, loses an estimated $52 million a month in gaming tax revenue. “That doesn’t include room tax, live entertainment tax, and more,” he said. Nevada casino operators have taken measures into their own hands, limiting operating hours and days inside their restaurants, bars, and other non-gaming amenities. Many have closed hotel towers due to occupancy numbers hovering in the 30% range mid-week and in the 80% range on weekends. Sisolak said during the question-and-answer session with journalists that he was fine with allowing casino operators to make their own choices about operating. However, he said visitors need to respect the state’s protocols in dealing with the pandemic, such as wearing facial masks and practicing social distancing. “I think it’s important to make this 100% clear,” Sisolak said. “When I think of the gaming industry, I am not losing sleep at night because I’m worried about their stock prices or whether gaming executives are going to make it through the pandemic and be able to keep a roof over their heads.” Sisolak said his concern was with blackjack dealers, cooks, valet drivers, housekeepers, and performers, many of whom have been in and out of work since March. The governor said Nevada lost 250,000 jobs in the first months of the pandemic, “the highest level ever reported by any state in modern history.” Sisolak added that Nevada lost approximately 180,000 jobs during the Great Recession. Since Sisolak’s mitigation efforts began Thanksgiving week, Nevada has experienced continuously rising COVID-19 numbers. The state reported 219 deaths due to the virus last week, the highest single-week total since the pandemic began. Nevada’s positivity rate, calculated over a two-week period, is 21.5%, with the state averaging more than 2,700 new cases daily over the past week. Nevada has the highest rate of hospitalized COVID-19 patients per capita of any state. As part of the continued mitigation efforts, gathering limits were reduced from 250 people to 50 people or 25%, whichever number is lower. Private gatherings were reduced to 10 people. Through October, Strip gaming revenues were down 43.6%, the market’s visitation was off 54.2%, and airline passenger volume at McCarran International Airport had dipped 56.6%. Convention attendance, the primary driver of mid-week visitation, is down 69.6%, which includes seven straight months of zero attendance. Nevada’s health and safety rules forced the 10-day National Finals Rodeo to move to Dallas and away from Las Vegas for the first time since 1985. The pandemic caused the cancellation of the customary citywide New Year’s Eve celebration, including the annual midnight countdown that culminates with a fireworks display launched from the roofs of Strip resorts. On the Strip, lack of mid-week business has limited Park MGM, Mandalay Bay, The Mirage, Palazzo, and Encore to just weekend operations. Boyd Gaming is keeping two properties closed until next year, including downtown’s Main Street Station, and Red Rock Resorts is keeping its off-Strip Palms and three other properties padlocked until 2021. “The gaming industry is under the same restrictions as many of our small businesses, and in some cases, even tougher restrictions,” Sisolak said. “Restaurants and bars in casinos face the same capacity limits as those in our neighborhoods.” Earlier Sunday, Sisolak said the Western States (California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) Scientific Safety Review Workgroup had confirmed the Pfizer vaccine is “safe and efficacious.” He hopes to see Nevadans begin receiving the vaccine as soon as next week. “Our state team is eagerly awaiting our first allocation of the vaccine to arrive so Nevada can begin the process to vaccinate our frontline health care workers, who continue to battle this virus every day on behalf of Nevadans across the state,” Sisolak said. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.