In the clearest indication yet that the United States is finally countering the threat of Covid, Las Vegas, the country’s top gambling and entertainment hub, has taken a big step forward to the old, much-missed, normality.
This week the Queen of the Desert will up capacity restrictions in its legendary casinos and gaming houses to 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, half-way there and half-way to go after an unprecedented 15-months that has hammered employment and revenues.
It’s not quite the swagger of “Casino” or “Ocean’s 11”, but the glitter and the glitz has drawn the crowds back to the fabled Strip, big time.
Thousands of punters and tourists—admittedly not all of them respecting social distancing rules, but the majority, nevertheless, wearing masks–thronged the neon-lit walkway, reported the local Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.
They queued patiently for burgers and beer at street stalls. And the air, it was noted, was thick with cigarette and weed smoke.
“It feels good, like some type of normal,” said one tourist.
“It’s really awesome to see it like this and Vegas vibrantly alive again,” said another.
This week Las Vegas casinos increased their capacities from 35 to 50 per cent.
After reopening last November they were operating at a quarter capacity—under strict social distancing and Covid protocols–until February 15 this year, when capacity was raised to 35 per cent.
The new half-capacity ruling applies to the full gamut of Vegas entertainment and service facilities, embracing racetracks, theme parks, gyms, pool halls and eateries.
As everywhere, the pandemic has rocked the bricks-and-mortar world of traditional gambling and accelerated the power shift to online betting and iGaming.
In just one indication of the financial impact of Covid on the Vegas market, for example, Red Rock Resorts reported a US$356.7m (£257.59m/€298.64m) drop in revenues for its local businesses in 2020, compared to 2019.
This was mirrored across all of Nevada’s retail gambling outlets.
With nearly 70 million of its 370 million people having received at least a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine, the number of Coronavirus cases in the US has flattened.
Last week there were 53,000 new Covid cases and 1,350 deaths in the nation, it was reported.
Nevada, for its part, recorded only one death from the virus.
Casinos, the glittering shop window of the gaming industry, are back in action in Sin City. The wheels are spinning, the cards are being dealt.
Let’s just hope that the deck isn’t still marked by Covid.