- The Nevada Gaming Control Board has instructed licensees to comply with their county’s COVID-19 mitigation plan effective May 1.
- In Clark County which includes Las Vegas, Henderson and Laughlin this will allow 80% capacity at casinos.
- Gaming licensees are still required to comply with the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s mask mandate.
More good news for Southern Nevada casinos–starting on May 1 they’ll be able to move to 80% of capacity. They’re currently at 50% capacity and have been since mid-March when capacity was increased from 35%. In late March, the Nevada Gaming Control Board sent out a ‘reminder’ that pool area capacity was limited to 50% and subject to the same social distancing and mask mandates as the casino gaming floor. Technically, the Gaming Control Board does not have authority over non-gaming areas such as pools which is why the memo was addressed to ‘licensees with pools operating on their premises’. Nevada gaming regulators *do* have wide latitude to sanction licensees for not following other agencies guidelines. Takeaway–don’t piss off the Gaming Control Board.
This is consistent with the Nevada State Government’s COVID-19 mitigation roadmap. On May 1, the mitigation measures transition from state government to local authority. More specifically, each county in the Silver State will enforce their own capacity and social distancing guidelines. The only statewide measure that will remain is the statewide mask mandate. The exception is if local COVID-19 mitigation plans are inadequate–in that case, the county will remain subject to state criteria including a 50% capacity limit and 6 foot social distancing space. As of this writing, only Washoe County–Nevada’s second most populous county and home to Reno, Sparks and Lake Tahoe communities such as Crystal Bay and Incline Village–had their county mitigation plan ruled as ‘inadequate’ by the state’s COVID-19 task force. Casinos in the area do have a recourse–Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson has indicated that individual properties can appeal directly to have their county’s occupancy rates waived. Licensees will have to supplement their previously submitted health and safety plans with the added stipulation of a demonstration of ‘measurable and material steps to vaccinate its workforce’. This means a ‘detailed commitment to vaccinate its workforce’ including goals and timelines.
The specific capacity limitations for Clark County gaming areas allow an increase to 80% and a reduced social distancing metric of 3 feet. There’s a proviso that capacity will increase to 100% and all social distancing removed once 60% of the eligible population of the country receives their first vaccine dose. Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the vaccination rate of Clark County residents was at 47 percent as of Thursday and that she expects the level to reach 50 percent by the end of next week. Many of the large gaming companies are ‘strongly suggesting’ that their employees get vaccinated and operating vaccination clinics at their properties. Since many gaming employees have their pay directly or indirectly tied to casino capacity this should be an added incentive to get vaccinated.
As far as the rest of the state, Nevada has a total 16 counties and 1 independent city (Carson City). Carson City is increasing their occupancy limit to 100% on May 1 but keeping the 6 feet social distancing measure as is Churchill and Lyon Counties. Douglas, Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Nye, Pershing, Storey and White Pine Counties are moving to 100% capacity with no social distancing requirements. Esmerelda and Mineral Counties are staying at 50% occupancy but eliminating social distancing guidelines. We covered Clark and Washoe County in detail above.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted analyst Brendan Bussmann of consultancy firm Global Market Advisors who sounded a positive note:
“The lifting of capacity shows that Las Vegas is back open for business.”
Bussman said that Las Vegas visitors should be able to enjoy the ‘full experience’ by the summer. The next challenge in his view is the larger crowds visiting Southern Nevada but he’s confident this can be dealt with:
“However, there is no industry that has adapted better and implemented the protocols it needs to provide a safe environment for every guest through additional measures, testing and vaccines.”
Amanda Belarmino, an assistant professor of hospitality at UNLV, shared Bussman’s enthusiasm:
“It’s a great day in Nevada to see us able to do what we do best, provide world class service at state of the art casino hotels. The ability to increase capacity will have a profound impact on our economy and send the message that we are ready for visitors.”
I’ll be out in Las Vegas in late May/early June so look for a firsthand report on how the ‘reopening’ is progressing.