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A Socially Distant Las Vegas? What Are the Odds?

For decades, the El Cortez Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas has been known for single-deck blackjack.

But when the casinos and resorts open up — tentatively early June after weeks of being shut down, players will no longer be able to touch the cards. About 100 slot machines at the casino have been removed and the remaining 750 are now farther apart. Tape on the floor at the craps tables shows players where to stand to meet social-distancing requirements

“The days of 16 people standing around the dice table high-fiving one another are over for now,” said Adam Wiesberg, the general manager of the El Cortez, whose previous owners include the gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky.

While many cities and states grapple with the process of reopening, the stakes are high for Las Vegas, which has been hit particularly hard. About one-third of the local economy comes from the leisure and hospitality industry, more than any other major metropolitan area of the country. And when the city opens up after weeks of being shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be a very different place.

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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times

For starters, many of the flashiest hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip will remain closed. The famed all-you-can-eat buffets will be gone. So will the nightclubs. It is unknown when big conventions, must-see live shows and sports events will return.

For towering giants like MGM Resorts International, Wynn Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Sands, which offer their clientele white-glove service, gambling accounts for about a third of their revenues. The remaining two-thirds comes from hotel rooms, restaurants, night clubs, spas, pool parties, shows and other entertainment.

Will the stripped-down version of the city attract the visitors who previously came to party at poolside during the day, rock out at concert venues at night and dance at nightclubs into the wee hours of the morning?

“Part of the reason these guys can charge $25 for a watered-down vodka soda is the energy and vibe around their resorts,” said Chad Beynon, an analyst at investment bank Macquarie Group. “If these clubs aren’t open and you’re not permitting the same party atmosphere, will people still come?”

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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times
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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times
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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times
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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times

For many, the point of Las Vegas is the antithesis of social distancing.

“Nobody comes to Vegas to spend time by themselves,” said Brian Labus, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who is also a member of the medical advisory team for Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada. “It’s a place people come to be social with one another.”

Before Governor Sisolak shut down all nonessential businesses in Nevada in mid-March, Las Vegas was booming. The city had been one of the last to bounce back from the financial crisis of 2008 that sent foreclosure rates on residential properties soaring and collapsed home prices in the region.

But by earlier this year, more than three million visitors a month were flocking to the city, filling up the hotel rooms and cramming into the casinos, Cirque du Soleil performances and restaurants. For three consecutive months through February, gambling revenues in the state totaled more than $1 billion.

The city’s fortunes filled its skylines with multibillion-dollar projects aimed at attracting vast crowds of people, including the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium that will be the new home for the National Football League’s Raiders; the nearly 17,000-seat MSG Sphere at The Venetian; and the mega-resort project Resorts World Las Vegas. Circa Resort and Casino, a two-story casino being built downtown, features temperature-controlled rooftop pools large enough for 4,000 people to watch games and other entertainment on a giant outdoor video screen.

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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times

“Things were really bullish here in Las Vegas,” said Stephen Miller, a professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “And now, as a result of the virus, the public health crisis and the government shutting down the economy, it looks to me like Las Vegas is going to be once again one of the hardest-hit metro areas in the West.”

In fact, Nevada’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 28.2 percent in April, the highest in the country and in the state’s history, as casinos and other nonessential businesses laid off or furloughed hundreds of thousands of employees.

Last week, Governor Sisolak signaled that casinos could reopen as early as June 4.

But guidelines issued this month by the Nevada Gaming Control Board limit capacity to 50 percent and require new cleaning and social-distancing policies. Casinos are now taking out slot machines — which can make up half of the gaming revenue at many establishments — and considering raising minimum bets at card tables. Regulators have capped capacity at three players a table for blackjack and four for poker.

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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times

Executives at Wynn, which reported a 42 percent drop in revenue in the first quarter and saw a $105 million profit from a year ago turn into a $402 million loss, say they plan to open both Wynn and Encore properties. The stock price of Wynn Resorts is down 46 percent this year.

Executives at MGM Resorts, which runs more than a dozen casinos on the Strip, told Wall Street analysts in late April that the company would likely first open the Bellagio, home to the famous water fountain show, and New York, New York, a midrange property that features a roller coaster. MGM’s stock has dropped 53 percent this year.

All the hotels and casinos are taking safety measures. The Venetian, which is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has installed thermal cameras at entrances, put up plastic barriers at hotel check-in desks and removed about half of the chairs at its pools, rearranging the others to meet social-distancing protocols.

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Credit…Roger Kisby for The New York Times

At the El Cortez, Mr. Wiesberg said he scrambled in recent weeks to purchase face masks, gloves and gallons of hand sanitizer for the property when it reopens.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 26, 2020

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


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