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Nevada Governor Sisolak Announces New COVID-19 Restrictions

James Murphy
by in Gaming Industry on
  • Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has announced new restrictions intended to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
  • Sisolak insisted that the new measures were not a ‘shutdown’ but instead called them a ‘statewide pause’.
  • Many local businesses say they’re unfairly singled out when the real problem is out of state visitors.

Just over a week from his own COVID-19 announcement, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak has announced a new list of sweeping measures intended to fight continued spread of the coronavirus in the state. Sisolak bristled at the term ‘shutdown’ instead calling it a ‘statewide pause’ in a tortured example of semantical gymnastics. The new restrictions…er…’statewide pause’ will last three weeks unless extended.

Many of the new restrictions are of questionable efficacy and look to be nothing more than symbolism that the governor is ‘doing something’. After taking a lot of heat (and deservedly so) for an unprecedented two month plus shutdown of the Nevada gaming industry that crippled the state’s economy he now appears to be more concerned about pissing off Nevada’s powerful gaming and tourism sector than actually dealing with the problem.

Curiously, Sisolak went with the theme of Nevada’s ‘independent spirit’ in announcing the new restrictions:

“As your Governor, I am confident that I did all I could to avoid further restrictions and keep us on the path forward, but now I must act,” Governor Sisolak said. “In this defining moment, I implore Nevadans to tap into their independent spirit and consider their own personal responsibility.”

“We decide our distance from others. We decide how long we spend in a high-risk setting. We decide whether to take the simple step of putting on a mask,” he continued.“Nevadans know that if it doesn’t feel safe, then it isn’t safe. And, if it isn’t safe, we shouldn’t be doing it right now. Ultimately, our individual actions decide whether we are going to prioritize getting our children into the classroom, allowing our businesses to operate under safe measures, and protecting our hospital system and healthcare workers.”

The ‘statewide pause’ will begin on Tuesday, November 24 and will last for three weeks contingent on what the press release describes as ‘signs of concern or improvement’. Here’s a graphic helpfully provided by the governor’s office outlining what ‘independent spirited’ Nevadans can and can’t do during the ‘pause’:

The primary change is cutting from 50% capacity limit at most public places to 25%. Retail stores are able to remain at 50% capacity though large stores (50,000+ square foot capacity) must have ‘counters’ at all public entrances to manage capacity. With only a couple of exceptions, most types of business got away without any additional limitations other than reduced capacity. This included gaming businesses which are also subject to requirements issued by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

The rules for ‘Food & Drink’ establishments have also drawn criticism. In addition to the capacity reduction the number of patrons per table has been reduced from 4 to 6. The strangest restriction is that all restaurants, bars, pubs, wineries and breweries that serve food must now require reservations of all patrons. This presumably means that if you want to grab lunch at one of the many In-n-Out Burger locations in Southern Nevada you’ve got to make reservations. This is not only burdensome for the diner but the restaurants that aren’t set up to take reservations.

A long list of personal service businesses got away without any changes at all to either capacity or other restrictions. Offices, indoor malls, cannabis dispensaries, hair/nail salons, spas/massage businesses, tattoo/piercing establishments and community and recreation centers all have ‘no changes’. And unfortunately strip clubs, brothels and nightclubs/dayclubs remain closed. Sisolak said that his goal was to attack the spread of COVID-19 while minimizing economic collateral damage:

“I am not issuing a shutdown order. My goal is to aggressively try to attack this spread, while maintaining some portion of our economy and our daily lives.”

Although most restaurant owners/managers understand the need for some coordinated response against COVID-19 there were some questions about the feasability of some components of the ‘pause’. Scott Frost owns a couple of Hussong’s Cantina locations in Las Vegas and his issue is with the ‘reservations only’ provisions for food serving businesses:

“You’re going to have walk-ups regardless. People from out of state don’t know that there’s restrictions. We’re not going to sit there and tell them they have to make a reservation, so that’s a tough one to enforce.”

Lola Pokorny, owner of Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen downtown and in Summerlin, suggested that a short term restriction on out of state visitors might be needed:

“I would have preferred him to just close the borders of the states. Because when the border states close down — which they have — everyone from California and everyone from Utah comes here. And they go see their families and friends and they go out to eat, because it’s a pleasure and a privilege to go out to eat. But when they’re gathering at the homes, it’s more than 10, 15, 20 people, and that’s where the spread is.”

The gaming industry’s comments have been generally supportive with some grumbling that the capacity reduction was not necessary given the many precautions that they’re already taking. Sportsbook auditor Cristina Delgado told the Las Vegas-Review Journal that she’s concerned about the drop in traffic. If you need a great example of Nevada’s over reliance on retail betting versus mobile/web betting this is it:

“The amount of traffic we get in through casinos … that place bets in person, that basically pays our salaries. If money’s not coming through casinos, it’s not going to come to our payroll.”

With the caveat that any type of restriction is going to piss *someone* off Sisolak’s new guidelines don’t strike me as particularly effective. It is mostly symbolic though there are plenty of public health experts that suggest this ‘symbolism’ can be effective in helping to change behavior. I’m not so sure I buy that. With the Nevada economy already reeling the new restrictions are too arbitrary to be considered effective. To some extent, that isn’t Sisolak’s fault–on a macro level the failure of the United States to get some type of comprehensive contact tracing in place is inexcusable. Only 14 states and the District of Columbia offer contact tracing apps (despite Google and Apple spoon feeding states the platform). A few states are still futzing around with ‘testing’ something that should have been implemented months ago.

Without a clear indication of the source and nature of outbreaks there’s not really a way to prevent them. Instead, it creates horrible policy like curfews and school closures as well as producing the kind of incrementalism on display here.

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