- Bars are closed in Nevada’s most populous counties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Nevada has abandoned their phased reopening plans as the coronavirus pandemic has yet to show much improvement.
- Many bar owners are getting creative to facilitate video poker play.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nightmare scenario for many types of businesses but none more so than restaurants and bars. In both cases, a successful dining or drinking establishment is an anathema to social distancing. Some restaurants have been able to reopen with reduced capacity which is better than *not* being open but still a challenge in an industry that relies on volume and table turnover. Many more restaurants have done well by pivoting to takeout and delivery orders.
Bars don’t have it quite as easy. Part of the reason people go to bars, nightclubs, lounges and similar businesses is for social interaction which by definition doesn’t work when social distancing is mandated. Some states and cities have allowed bars to sell cocktails to go while others have been able to emphasize food service to keep revenue coming in. In most states, bars that don’t serve food have been subject to more stringent regulation and reopening guidelines.
In Nevada, bars and taverns have yet another problem. Most get significant revenue from the ubiquitous bar top video poker machines. It’s not incorrect to characterize video poker revenue as the lifeblood of Nevada taverns responsible for as much as 80% of their total revenue. Since patrons can’t currently drink at bars in Nevada’s largest counties they can’t play video poker at bars either. You’ve got to sell a lot of takeout pizza to compensate for that loss. As Black Mountain Grill owner Donna Rocker told the Las Vegas Review Journal:
“None of (the) taverns opened to be in the food and beverage business. We’re in the gaming business.”
“We’ll do almost anything we can to keep those machines open anywhere you want us to put them in our building. It’s all about the games. Just like the casinos, it’s all about gaming. That’s what Vegas has always been about.”
A CREATIVE RESPONSE TO A DIFFICULT CHALLENGE
One of the interesting components of the coronavirus pandemic has been the way that businesses have adapted to deal with social distancing guidelines or in many cases burdensome and pointless regulatory meddling. In Oregon, when stay at home orders forced the countless Portland area strip clubs to close they began offering ‘drive thru’ services and ‘food delivery’. Other businesses have found new opportunities in the pandemic. Since masks are now a part of life there’s a growing industry of creative face coverings. Sports team logos are very popular which has resulted in organizations like the National Hockey League offering officially branded face coverings. Clothing brands have created stylish face masks targeted for their customers. If you can’t find a face mask that resonates with your personality or interests you’re just not trying hard enough.
Back in Nevada, some bars have responded to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic by doing some reconfiguration. More specifically, they’ve pulled gaming machines out of bartops and put them in cabinets. They’ve then located them in various parts of their building and created makeshift “gaming lounges” which can’t be anywhere near the bar. Cabinet manufacturers can’t keep up with demand, including slot route operator Terrible Herbst (the Las Vegas gas and gaming fixture is now run by parent company Jett Gaming) despite building cabinets ‘as fast as they can’ according to Black Mountain Grill owner Rocker:
“They’re building (cabinets) as fast as they can, We have to pay $200 apiece for the cabinets, and we have to move our own machines off the bar and into those cabinets. And the cabinets have to be in a separate lounge — they can’t be anywhere near the bar.”
To their credit, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has been very flexible during the COVID-19 pandemic as their licensees scramble to keep revenue coming in. They could have easily shut down all of these temporary gaming lounges since slot machine placement is subject to board approval. Instead, they issued a memo on May 5 clarifying this point and indicating that licensees can change “the placement of slot machines from a previously approved Board diagram in order to comply with COVID-19 health requirements” without having to get regulatory approval beforehand. In addition, local government must also approve of the ‘gaming lounges’ and Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas have already done so. Unincorporated Clark County, however, is waiting on additional ruling from the Nevada Gaming Commission.