Las Vegas has suffered a huge hit to the casino industry due to the current pandemic and casinos were forced to shut down in mid-March. The only other time the Vegas Strip has been shuttered was after JFK was assassinated! After shutting down in March, thousands of people lost jobs, casinos lost revenue, and the state lost tourism. It was a major setback and one that many believe Sin City will not recover from. However, things are looking a bit brighter these days as casinos are re-opening and attracting players, though not to the levels pre-pandemic.
The rate of unemployment has soared as a result of the pandemic and even today, casinos are still letting people go, with some casinos like The Mirage just laying off 18,000 employees, accounting for almost 25% of the casino’s workforce. The Tropicana plans to lay off over 620 workers in October, so this is an ongoing issue not only for the casinos but for residents of Nevada who rely on the industry for income.
During the shutdown, there was a 90% drop in visitors to Las Vegas, the largest in history. The city has spent the past few months trying to regain some economic standing while battling outbreaks that are straining the health care system in the state. Even with studies showing a slower spread, the state remains one of the states in the country that has the highest rates of new infections. This has presented many problems and issues for casinos that are trying to reopen and regain some stability.
Casinos started to open on June 4 and there was a state average of 100 to 200 new cases daily. In just one month, those numbers shot up to 1,000 per day. In order to continue operating, Las Vegas casinos were required to limit capacity to 50% and to practice social distancing and having employees wear masks.
Since June, most of the casinos have reopened and the last closed casino, Park MGM will open in October.
Casino Safety Amid the Pandemic
As visitors start to return to Vegas and players enter the once-closed casinos, they will notice some major changes in place. In addition to the 50% capacity rule, casinos along the Strip have implemented other safety measures to help control outbreaks and limit contact. All MGM properties in Vegas have a strict safety plan that tests employees, enacts physical distancing rules, offers handwashing stations on the floor, provides digital restaurant menus, and more.
Many of the other major casinos that have opened have similar protocols in place. Some have rearranged the gaming floor to increase space between machines and there is plexiglass dividing dealers and players at the tables. Tables are also limited to just three players and there are no onlookers allowed.
What to Expect in the Future?
It will be a very slow process to get things up and running again and it will all be dependent on positive cases and any outbreaks. Casinos and hotels are taking extreme measures to ensure that all visitors are as safe as possible, but there is no way to 100% prevent the spread of COVID-19. This alone presents a problem for the gambling industry in Vegas as people are hesitant to return to the casino floor to engage in gambling activities even though venues are open for business.
At this time, casino operators are focusing on high-worth gamblers who are still frequenting casinos and playing more and at higher stakes. This group tends to be younger gamblers who are under the assumption they are not at risk of contracting the disease.
While Nevada has been successful in slowing the spread of cases, Vegas continues to struggle. The Strip and downtown segments will take much longer to recover than local markets due to the exposure of international customers and large meetings that are held at the venues. With the limitation in place, many people who were eager to visit Vegas are now putting their plans on hold until it becomes safer to travel and the virus is not as much of a threat. When this will happen is unknown.
The Focus on New Clientele
Many of the casinos that operate in Vegas reported that their best customers were often those over the age of 55. These players were known to frequent the casinos and drop large amounts of cash. However, during the pandemic, the number of these players has drastically decreased, being replaced by younger gamblers who have little fear of being out and about during a global pandemic.
It is these younger players that casinos are now focusing on. Casinos report that young gamblers in their 20s and 30s are spending more time on the casino floor and spending more money, which is one thing that has been helping casinos stay alive as they struggle to regain economic status during the pandemic. Even with the increase of positive cases, these younger gamblers are still visiting locations and spending their money. The question is, how long will this trend last and will it be enough to keep Vegas casinos afloat.