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Downtown Las Vegas casinos prepare to reopen Thursday

Updated June 2, 2020 - 8:06 am

For some downtown Las Vegas casino operators, Thursday won’t come soon enough.

Some locations will open just after the stroke of midnight, while at least one other won’t be ready until after the sun is up.

Derek Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate, is among those who plan to throw open the doors right away and has touted the collaboration of downtown operators as a key to a coordinated effort to draw visitors to the area.

“(State Gaming Control Board) Chairwoman Sandra Morgan and the governor know that as soon as casinos are allowed to open, I’ve been very communicative that I want to open one minute after we’re available,” Stevens said in a recent interview. “Who knows, it might be 12:01, it might be 8 in the morning.”

As it turns out, it will be 12:01 a.m. when the D and the Golden Gate return.

Others, including Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel, view reopening as a marathon, not a sprint. The property will open its casino at 9 a.m. Thursday.

“In my mind, let’s grow steadily and get back to where we were,” Jossel said.

Spokeswomen for each property said the ongoing protests over racial injustice will not affect reopening plans.

‘We survived’

Most of the shutdown was slow for Plaza staff. The property kept crews busy remodeling some areas — including bathrooms — and maintaining hotels rooms. Jossel picked up golf to fill his newfound free time.

“The first 10 days of shutdown were crazy; then it was 50, 60 days of nothingness. Just evaluating, waiting for information. There was really nothing going on,” he said. “It got frustrating for customers … frustrating for our team.”

Then, on May 22, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced that June 4 would be a possible reopening date for casinos. He confirmed the date the following week.

While the tight deadline to prepare for the reopening is a challenge, Jossel said his overall reaction was a sense of relief.

“We’re a small business at the end of the day. … We don’t run on huge margins,” he said. “It almost feels like we survived, we made it through this difficult time.”

Jossel expects filling rooms midweek will be a challenge with so few conferences and events in town, but he said that demand for the first weekend looks “steady,” with weekends this month hitting roughly 50 percent occupancy at the Plaza.

According to reports from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, downtown properties typically hit 86.3 percent occupancy in June 2019.

Jossel fears Nevada lost out on some of the initial “pent-up demand” to states and tribal operations that allowed casinos to reopen sooner, but he expects demand in downtown Las Vegas will pick up later in the summer.

“I think a lot of people want to wait and see with these measures that are in place, how does this affect their stay and, obviously, their safety,” he said. The Plaza plans to require all staff to wear masks, have staff and guests observe social distancing, enhance sanitization protocols and more.

While most casinos are planning to reopen their doors as soon as possible, the Plaza is taking a more relaxed approach to its opening day.

“There’s this idea that everything has to be done by June 4, (but) the whole summer’s an opportunity to show that Vegas is back,” he said.

The Plaza plans to roll out “a really good promotion” around mid-June to get some of those visitors back. The property is also offering special deals for its bingo rooms and hotel rooms to celebrate the reopening.

A coordinated effort

Among downtown casinos, reopening has been a coordinated effort from the start.

“Since this (closures resulting from the pandemic) all happened, we meet every Tuesday and we talk about what’s new. What are you hearing? What can we do on health? What can we do on safety together? What can we do for marketing?” Stevens said.

Jossel expects downtown to “fare great” upon reopening, especially with locals and the drive-in market. He pointed to its updated properties, restaurants and amenities, as well as unity among operators.

“We’re all opening up downtown; that’s a great message. Downtown is going to be able to say, we’re back, everyone’s open,” Jossel said. “You can walk between the different properties and do what you used to do. … I think downtown will be able to bounce back faster than other areas. There’s a lot more value and good product down here.”

The reopening plan wasn’t without its hiccups. Stevens said when the Gaming Control Board added new reopening requirements addressing customer holding areas for those running a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees and additional safeguards for responsible gaming, licensees had to scramble to update their plans. By now, everybody has resubmitted updated plans.

Stevens said he intends to keep his company’s resort fee intact because downtown properties already have rates that are deeply discounted around $30 a night midweek. The resort fee for the D is $28.

“The rates in Vegas fluctuate. You’re not going to be able to get rates anywhere on a weekend better than the rates that are out there in the months of June and July,” Stevens said. “I think the discounts are built into where we’re at right now. I can tell you that any answer I give you today may no longer be valid in 48 hours. It’s really dependent on how the demand kicks in.”

More openings on the horizon

Stevens has attempted to jump-start the local economy by giving away 2,000 flights from various cities on various airlines to visitors. He didn’t even require the lucky recipients to stay at his properties.

Stevens, meanwhile, remains focused on downtown’s big construction project, his 777-room Circa property at Main and Fremont streets. Last week, he confirmed that the project remains on time and will open in December as planned.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Stevens said. “The governor determined that construction was essential in Nevada. We’ve been able to keep our schedules. Some elements, with the social distancing, created some scenarios where we had to change schedules and change shifts. We had a few more people working on Saturdays and Sundays than maybe we originally would have.

“And we had more people working in the middle of the night than the original schedule was for social distancing purposes,” he said. “We’ve been able to stay on schedule and we’re still on schedule to open by the end of the year.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @Bailey_Schulz on Twitter.

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