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Casinos reopen after lengthy shutdown; ‘I’m ready to lose some money’

Updated June 5, 2020 - 11:17 am

When John and Christie Price learned at 5 p.m. Wednesday that Red Rock Resort would be reopening, they packed up and drove to Las Vegas.

Just after midnight, the Southern Californians were among the first guests to check in at the suburban hotel-casino in the west valley.

“I got the Vegas excitement,” John Price said. “I’m ready to lose some money.”

Nevada’s casinos were allowed to reopen Thursday, more than two months after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered them closed to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Gamblers hit casino floors on the Strip, downtown and other parts of the Las Vegas Valley, and luggage-toting guests checked in to their hotel rooms.

Visitors were happy to be back, but overall, Las Vegas’ casino reopening wasn’t met with stampedes of incomers.

On the Strip — normally choked with cars and pedestrians before the public health crisis effectively closed the corridor overnight in March — foot traffic midday Thursday was light, even nonexistent in some areas, and car traffic was moderate.

Resorts were by no means empty, but they were not overrun with guests, either.

“I’m a little bit disappointed they aren’t busier,” said Larry Frost, 76, of Summerlin, who ventured to multiple properties on Las Vegas Boulevard. “This should have been like a grand opening.”

For some gamblers, winning or losing was secondary to just being there.

“I was playing in the high-limit area, now I’m on the pennies, so that tells you how I did,” said Darlene Schwartz, 63, of New Orleans. “But I’m so glad to be back here. I’m having a blast.”

Schwartz, one of roughly 20 gamblers on the Encore floor at 2 p.m., on par with the casino’s traffic up to that point, visited Las Vegas a few months ago during the shutdown.

“I think I saw one other person at the airport. It was so depressing. … It looked like something from ‘The Twilight Zone,’” she said.

Thursday was a good first step, Schwartz said, but the longtime Las Vegas visitor is eager for things to get back to normal.

“I never thought I would say I’d be glad when I see the Strip bumper-to-bumper with traffic again,” she said.

Protective measures

For now, casino operations look anything but normal, overhauled with health-safety measures designed to protect workers and guests.

Employees wore masks; table games had plexiglass partitions; hotel guests had their temperatures checked, including by machines that resembled metal detectors; and not all slot machines had chairs, to prevent gamblers from sitting near each other.

“Think dirty thoughts but keep your hands clean,” a marquee message along the Strip, developed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told passersby.

Not every resort in Southern Nevada reopened Thursday, but some that did opened the minute they could.

Downtown casino owner Derek Stevens reopened D Las Vegas and Golden Gate at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Gambler Eddie Gonzalez, who was at the D before dawn, said it was business as usual at the hotel-casino, except his temperature was checked at the door.

“Vegas is coming back,” he said. “We are hopeful it will come back.”

In Henderson, about 100 people lined up at multiple entrances on the Paseo Verde Parkway side of Green Valley Ranch Resort ahead of its 12:01 a.m. opening.

The crowd counted down from 10 seconds and cheered when the doors opened.

“One, two, three, viva Las Vegas!” one man yelled.

People were checked by a thermal imaging scanner. Those not wearing masks were offered one by resort staff, but it appeared that about 70 percent to 75 percent of patrons declined to wear them.

Hours later on Las Vegas Boulevard, a handful of people waltzed into The Strat when doors from the parking garage unceremoniously opened at 8 a.m. Inside, employees were wiping down slot machines and poker chips.

Drew Casen of Henderson was waiting for doors to open with a suitcase in hand. The 70-year-old was wearing a face mask and said he’s been coming to the casino for 20 years to play craps. He got a room for two nights to celebrate the reopening and “get out of the house.”

“I’ve been cooped up for almost three months at home,” Casen said.

At the Wynn Las Vegas, a crowd about 30-deep waited in line — socially distanced at the encouragement of employees — in the minutes leading up to its reopening.

As the clock struck 10 a.m., employees applauded and guests shuffled inside. Each patron was offered a fresh disposable mask at the door.

Hand-sanitizing stations dotted the casino floor, alongside signs for social distancing. The smell of fresh bread in The Cafe was juxtaposed with a light scent of cigarette smoke. A man walked away from a blackjack table with a cigarette dangling from his lips, over a mask tucked under his chin.

Throughout the casino, masked employees wiped down slot machines as masked cocktail waitresses offered drinks.

‘We did it!’

At Caesars Palace, crooner Wayne Newton chatted with gamblers. Some touched elbows with him before heading to the slot machines, and one woman sang “Danke Schoen” to him as he walked through the casino.

“You sing that pretty good,” Newton said with a smile.

At the Flamingo, guests entering from the sidewalks on the Strip were greeted by two showgirls in bright orange and pink costumes. Each wore a matching orange mask and carried a sign thanking guests for practicing social distancing when asking for photos.

In the hotel lobby, a machine resembling a metal detector scanned guests’ temperatures as they reached the check-in line. A security guard watched pink and purple blotches on a screen, vaguely in the shape of people, as they passed through it.

Of course, this being Las Vegas, the booze is flowing at all hours. Around 12:30 a.m., roughly a half-hour after the Golden Nugget reopened, a slightly intoxicated man proclaimed something to nobody in particular.

“Guys,” he said, “we did it!”

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Rory Appleton, Jim Barnes, Alexis Egeland, David Ferrara, Christopher Lawrence, Katelyn Newberg, Glenn Puit, Mike Shoro, and Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.

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