Vegas Rolls Dice On Reopening Shuttered Casinos

Las Vegas is betting that, with social-distancing restrictions in place, customers will return to its famed casinos.

Nevada’s governor has given the go-ahead for casinos to reopen on June 4. But outside experts warn that the gambling halls could be a bad bet in the fight to beat COVID-19.

The stakes are high for Vegas, whose economy is geared to the leisure and hospitality industry — tourism, shows, restaurants, hotels and the like. Not to mention gambling.

“You look at Las Vegas reopening its casinos,” said former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “Those are the kinds of settings where I think you have more risk, where you have a lot of people crowding together, coming and going in indoor settings for sustained periods of time,” he told CNBC Thursday (May 28).

Not all the casinos in Las Vegas will take the immediate opportunity to reopen. But Caesars Palace, the Belagio, MGM Grand and Wynn Resorts have hopped onboard.

At the same time, most of America has seen the seemingly crowded conditions at places like Lake of the Ozarks as the country began its COVID-19 reopening. Businesses at the Missouri tourism spot, which bills itself as “Midwest’s premier lake resort destination, had to defend against accusations that they were not doing enough to police social distancing.

Gottlieb was responding to a question about such images of crowds this Memorial Day weekend. It’s concerning, he said, if people “are becoming complacent” about social distancing guidelines. “The biggest risk,” he added, is inside businesses.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak argued for reopening Vegas, in part by pointing to data that showed the outbreak is in decline across Nevada. “We continue to see a consistent and sustainable downward trajectory of percentage of positive Covid-19 cases and a decrease in the trend of Covid-19 hospitalizations,” Sisolak said.

Casinos will face the challenge of competing with the online gambling that many consumers have gone to during U.S. shutdowns.

However, not all online gambling sites can harness online payments methods. Those have to be licensed by the states. As a result, the popularity of brick-and-mortar versus online gaming could vary by region.