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Gaming Commission approves guidelines for casino reopening

Updated May 7, 2020 - 6:16 pm

Casino capacity would be cut in half, gamblers would keep their distance at slot and table games and surfaces would be cleaned frequently when casinos reopen under new guidelines approved Thursday by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

The rules would guide the state’s more than 400 casino properties. Commissioners took more than 40 minutes of public comment before agreeing that guidelines issued Friday by the state Gaming Control Board would adequately address providing a safe and healthy environment to reopen casinos closed since March 18.

Halved occupancy limits assigned to each gaming area of the property would be determined by local building and fire codes. Table game limits would include three players per blackjack table, six players per craps table, four players per roulette table, and four players per poker table.

“These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented measures,” Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Morgan said. “We are confident that these policies are sound, not only for our licensees, but for our employees and guests.”

The board issued guidelines for nonrestricted licensees that include Strip and downtown resorts and locals casinos as well as those for more than 1,000 restricted licensees, those with 15 or fewer slot machines in convenience stores, supermarkets, restaurants and taverns.

During public comment before the vote, several comments were fielded from union representatives, responsible gaming advocates and anti-smoking groups.

Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Local 226 in Las Vegas, urged the commission to review the union’s suggested public health guidelines for the reopening of casinos.

They include testing of workers for the coronavirus and antibodies; widely available PPE for workers and guests at no cost; enhanced cleaning of all surfaces and all areas; and accountability and monitoring of all adopted protocols.

“Culinary union members want to go back to work and provide for their families, but they are worried about what awaits them inside the casinos when they go back,” Argüello-Kline’s statement said.

Members of the union also had multiple statements read into the record during public comment asking the board to make sure that guidelines for reopening casinos include protocols to ensure the safety of casino workers.

“I am a frontline hotel worker,” said Gladis Blanco, a guest room attendant at Bellagio. “As a guest room attendant, I interact with guests frequently throughout the day. I am scared of touching dirty bedding, towels or trash then getting the virus and infecting my two children.”

Shawn Best, a banquet cook at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, echoed those concerns.

“The health and safety of workers and guests has to be a priority,” Best’s statement said. “My coworkers and I are frontline workers and our employer should work with the Culinary Union to ensure that appropriate public health protections are in place to safeguard both workers and casino guests.”

Others also introduced statements during public comment about concerns for responsible gambling once casinos reopen.

“As our state confronts the health and safety issues of reopening, we must recognize that virtually all Nevadans entering casinos will have seen their financial situation decline,” a statement from Alan Feldman of the UNLV International Gaming Institute read. “Our economic recovery should not include placing anyone in harm’s way.

“Experiences that have traditionally been known to contribute to problem gambling may have been experienced by many returning customers, such as isolation, loss of income, loss of a loved one, or unemployment. These experiences may contribute to customers using gambling as an escape from the stress of the pandemic or as and attempt to recoup lost income.”

Jennifer Pearson, an assistant professor in the School of Community Health Sciences at UNR, Christine Thompson of the Nevada Cancer Coalition in Reno and Don Danielson of Reno appealed to the commission to include a smoking ban in casinos as part of the health and safety requirements for reopening.

The Control Board guidance doesn’t mention smoking, and commissioner didn’t raise the issue in their discussion.

Poker player Richard Gilliam asked the commission to reconsider allowing only four players at a poker table. He said a normal table complement is nine or 10 and that the reduction of the number of players would make games unprofitable to the casino and unattractive to most players.

“ I understand the need for reducing the number of players as a safety measure, but these regulations are meant to strike a balance between visitor safety and enterprise economic viability,” Gilliam said. “Therefore, I ask the commission to reconsider this limitation and increase the number of players at each poker table to a minimum of six players.”

They also did not comment on the Control Board keeping casino reopening plans confidential, an issue raised by the Culinary union earlier in the week.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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