Nevada casinos could soon have cause to celebrate, with Gov. Steve Sisolak planning a return to 100% capacity in all counties by June 1. [Shutterstock.com]
A possible return to normality
After enduring more than 12 months of COVID-19 restrictions, casinos across Nevada’s 17 counties could soon return to full capacity if all goes to plan.
Nevada’s required social distancing mandate will end on May 1
Governor Steve Sisolak conducted a press conference on Tuesday in which he provided further details on the state’s roadmap out of pandemic restrictions. As part of this plan, Nevada’s required social distancing mandate will end on May 1. Sisolak will cede some control over restrictions to local county governments at the same time.
Praising the success of statewide vaccination programs, the governor expressed confidence that all counties could open up to full capacity by June 1. The first-term Democrat took to Twitter to share the news among a thread of other details regarding the easing of restrictions:
Casinos in Nevada have remained at 50% capacity since March 15, when the state last increased limits. Commenting during the news conference, Sisolak said: “This is the first piece of good news that I’m able to deliver in a long time.”
Industry vaccination efforts
Despite the ceding of control to local counties in May, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) will still maintain autonomy over casinos and how they operate during the pandemic.
If casinos aim to meet the governor’s June deadline, then employee vaccinations are absolutely vital. The regulator made that clear in a memo to casino operators earlier this month, stating at the time that “consideration by the Board to increase gaming floor occupancy will only be taken in cases where licensees have taken measurable and material steps to vaccinate.”
Vaccination eligibility opened to all Nevadans aged 16 and older on April 5. Casinos have since taken it upon themselves to ensure the vaccination of staff. A number of operators have opened employee vaccination facilities, including Wynn Resorts, Station Casinos and Las Vegas Sands Corp., Caesars Entertainment, and MGM Resorts, to name a few.
The Cosmopolitan will pay upwards of $1m in bonus money if 80% of its workforce gets the vaccine by May 1
Some have taken this even further. On Tuesday, The Cosmopolitan hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip announced it intends to pay cash bonuses to employees who receive their vaccinations. According to an email seen by the Las Vegas Sun, The Cosmopolitan will pay upwards of $1m in bonus money if 80% of its workforce gets the vaccine by May 1.
These vaccination efforts have not gone unnoticed. In his Twitter announcements on Tuesday, Gov. Sisolak commended the NGCB and casino operators for their commitment, saying: “I am proud of the @NevadaGCB efforts as they continue to work alongside casino owners, local leaders, & employee unions to set up vaccination sites on gaming properties.”
Still a long road to recovery
Even if Nevada’s casinos get the green light to reopen at full capacity from June 1, there is still a long way to go for revenue to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The state’s casinos remained closed for 78 days during the first lockdown in March 2020 and have remained hindered by restrictions ever since. As a result, 2020 saw Nevada post its worst full-year gaming revenue (GGR) since 1996 at just $7.87bn. That’s a decrease of 35% from 2019 levels. This descent continued throughout the year, with December’s Las Vegas Strip revenue posting the worst figures in 27 years.
casinos posted February 2021 revenue of $772.4m, down 26% year-on-year
Although the easing of restrictions has fueled some recovery, Nevada GGR still remains well below pre-coronavirus levels. According to the NGCB’s most recent figures, the state’s casinos posted February 2021 revenue of $772.4m, down 26% year-on-year. Las Vegas Strip casinos ended the month with $348.4m, indicating a more substantial fall of 42%.
This continued year-on-year decline is partly due to a lack of international travel. Speaking to the Associated Press last month, Michael Lawton, NGCB senior research analyst, noted a 95% year-on-year decrease in international passenger traffic at the McCarran International Airport in February. He said this “materially impacted” the month’s results.