“Think Dirty…But Keep Your Hands Clean” has become the new normal for real-world gamblers everywhere.
That’s the mantra from Las Vegas as our premier gaming resort reopens for business.
The dice are tumbling, the slots are whirring, the wheels are spinning, spread the message: Vegas—not Coronavirus–is back in business.
There was a fittingly over-the-top pastiche of Elvis’s “Viva Las Vegas” movie at the Bellagio Hotel as an exuberant mood marker but when casinos on the legendary Strip reopened their doors to gamers early June after a 78-day hiatus they did so under a banner headline of: “Think dirty…but keep your hands clean.”
Sin City was flooded by thousands of punters, both masked and unmasked, all eager to test Lady Luck.
For the foreseeable future dealers and players will now be separated by Plexiglas, dice doused in sanitizer after every throw, and guests, encouraged though not required to wear masks, will be subject to mandatory temperature checks.
It is by all accounts one of the most epidemiologically complex reopening experiments in the United States. And one set to be cloned by casinos everywhere.
The dreaded coronavirus Covid-19 hit Vegas March 6 when a speaker at “The Women of Power” conference being held in the desert city at the time tested positive to the virus.
By early June more than 9,600 people in Nevada tested Covid-19 positive and just under 450 deaths were recorded. The figures only covered state residents, however, and did not include visitors to the gambling mecca, who in normal times outnumber locals by about 20-1.
As Vegas reopened, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak affirmed that “every precaution possible” has been taken to ensure that the famed resorts can both serve guests and protect public health.
“I don’t think you’ll find a safer place than Las Vegas,” the governor assured journalists, stressing that he was closely tracking the state’s case numbers and would “pull back if it causes any type of problem.”
Nevertheless, fears that gaming venues like Vegas, because of the press of punters, can become virus hotspots remain.
“Here you have not only an issue of magnitude, but also a long incubation period and the factor of super-spreaders — one person can go into a casino and infect 200 people,” said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“It’s a real challenge for any place with a high concentration of visitors, and it needs to be addressed,” he cautioned.
Last year, 42.5 million visitors flocked to Las Vegas. A little over one-fifth came from California, while another fifth were foreigners. Only a very small percentage of guests on the Strip were from Nevada.
Much depends on Las Vegas’s ability to lure those visitors back.
Nevada casinos generated nearly $US8.8 billion in revenue last year, and the state’s unemployment climbed to 28 per cent during the shutdown, the highest in the United States.
MGM is providing a contact email and asking guests to voluntarily notify the company if they test positive within two weeks of their stay. But other casinos, including two owned by Wynn Resorts, have decided to leave that job to health officials.
Mariano Mintero, aged 64, works in housekeeping at the Bellagio, a MGM property.
He said he was eager to return to work after so long without a wage check. But he was worried, too. In the days following the shutdown, he said, he had heard that several housekeeping employees had contracted the virus.
“I know we are working for a good company,” said Mr. Mintero. “But I also have to admit that I’m a little scared.”
Both MGM and Wynn Resorts are going beyond Nevada’s minimum reopening requirements.
Wynn, for example, required all returning employees to be tested; while MGM will offer on-site tests to guests who feel unwell. Both said they also would be willing to support any efforts to make it easier to track employee cases by casino.
“I’m in favour of anything that gives all of us more information during this period of time,” said a spokesperson for MGM. “You have to come at this virus from every angle because the last thing we want is for people to get sick and for us to have to shut down again. No one wants to go through this again.”
Right now the wheel of fortune is back turning in the world’s top gaming resort.
Viva Las Vegas!
And remember the new normal of real-world gaming: “Think Dirty…But Keep Your Hands Clean.”