LAS VEGAS (AP) — Mask use was spotty among customers as casinos in Las Vegas and throughout Nevada reopened Thursday for the first time since March following a closure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Wash your hands while saying, ‘Vegas Baby!' 20 times," a video marquee cheered on the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.
DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS
Hotel-casinos in downtown and suburban Las Vegas were first to open right after midnight. Several dozen people waited at the high-rise D Hotel and Casino on Fremont Street to have their temperatures checked at the door. The casino quickly filled with revelers and gamblers while a bartender danced, wearing lingerie and a surgical mask.
The Plaza Hotel & Casino reopened at 9 a.m. Thursday. It was a nice and slow, steady build up. It’s getting a little busier now,” CEO Jonathan Jossel said.
Popular at the Plaza is its bingo room, the only one in downtown. On Thursday, dozens lined up and took a seat, ready to test their luck.
“W have people upstairs in bingo, all over the different restaurants, so it’s just nice to be back and see people in the building again,” Jossel said.
The hotel still plans to host several big Bingo tournaments in July. Those will look different as the hotel adapts to social distancing guidelines.
“The guests seem to be understanding. They seem quite used to it: the social distancing, hand sanitizer, temperature checks,” Jossel said. “Right now, it’s very relaxed. It’s calm. Everybody is respectful of different protocols. If you haven’t come out yet, come when you’re comfortable.”
THE FABULOUS LAS VEGAS STRIP
Jeff Hwang, a gambling enthusiast, author and blogger, began a trek at midnight to visit every casino in town that was scheduled to reopen.
Employees wore masks, but not many customers, at about a dozen places Hwang said he stopped before going to the Treasure Island casino, which opened quietly about 9 a.m. with seats removed to limit players at table games and slot machines. The few people entering found no greeters at the door and no temperature checks.
State gambling regulators, citing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, required resorts to provide temperature screenings for hotel guests, but not casino patrons. Employees can be required to wear facial coverings, and customers were encouraged to do so.
Hwang said he was given face coverings earlier, including one with a Golden Gate logo at the city's oldest existing downtown casino. “Walking around, not many people were using them," he observed. “Just employees."
The iconic Bellagio fountain came alive at 10 a.m. with few people watching. Several nearby resorts also opened, including Wynn and Encore, the Venetian with its gondoliers, Caesars Palace and the Flamingo. MGM Grand opened an hour later, along with New York-New York.
Convention halls, nightclubs, swimming pool parties and arena spectacles remain dark.
Mike Gebhardt a utility worker from Cincinnati, flew to Las Vegas on a surprisingly full flight Thursday morning with his sister and her fiance for his birthday trip. He was looking forward to letting loose and playing blackjack.
“It’s going to be a little different, but that’s the way thing are now,” said Gebhardt.
In board rooms and government offices there are big hopes for recovery from an unprecedented and expensive shutdown.
“Our customers are coming to get away. Just for a little while," Wynn Resorts chief executive Matt Maddox told employees in a video pep talk. “People need a break and we should offer it to them. With a smile and with dignity and with respect."
Green Valley Ranch Casino in Henderson welcomed its first guests which Vice President and General Manager Vinny Barile said are mostly locals.
"We are a local’s casino. We're in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. We’ve been here since 2001 and the majority or our guests here all live around us," said Barile.
Longtime regulars were on hand for opening day and said coming to Green Valley Ranch is more intimate than fighting the hustle and bustle of the busy Las Vegas Strip.
"It’s really just more personal. You get to know the people that actually work here. It kind of just feels like it's a little bit more local instead of the rush of all the tourists," said regular visitor Mark St. Marie.
BETTING ON SAFETY
Property owners, state regulators and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, are balancing health concerns against the loss of billions of dollars a month in gambling revenue and state unemployment that topped 28% during an idled April.
They’re betting that safety measures including hand sanitizers and reminders for people to keep 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart will prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases. State health officials reported Thursday that more than 9,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nevada, and 429 have died.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Recovery from the recession took years — reaching best-ever numbers last January and February, when taxable casino winnings topped $1 billion each month and unemployment was at an all-time low 3.6%.
Casino resorts closed March 17. By April, unemployment reached 28.2%, topping figures in any state even during the Great Depression. Casino winnings were near zero.
Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive who is now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called reopening an extremely important moment. “This is going to be a pretty long, slow climb,” he said.
Associated Press writer Michelle Price and photographer John Locher contributed to this report. FOX5's Tiana Bohner and Enzo Marino contributed to this report.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.