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Las Vegas casinos host 1st weekend visitors since shutdown — BLOG

Updated June 6, 2020 - 4:48 pm

Check back here throughout the day to see what’s happening on the Strip and at local casinos.

4:00 p.m.

‘Not the same’

Afternoon brought gamblers out of their rooms and down to the tables at the Downtown Grand while families took advantage of the rooftop swimming pool.

Guests to the hotel and casino must undergo a temperature check, with anyone registering 100.4 degrees not allowed to enter. A security guard said no one had yet to be turned away on Saturday.

The temperature check was appreciated by Yvette Castillo, 31, from Ontario, California. She and her husband, Jairo, drove the 3 1/2 hours to spend the weekend at the hotel and gamble.

“Everything is OK,” she said of the safety precautions and preventive measures. “There are only three at a table.”

More bothersome, to her, was the ID checkpoints along Fremont Street where pedestrians must show licenses or other documents to walk to other gaming locations.

Castillo said it was great that the casinos were reopening, but the changes were noticeable.

“It’s not the same,” she said. “I don’t think it’ll ever be the same.”

— Gary Martin

3:00 p.m.

‘Live your life’

There was light traffic at New York-New York Saturday afternoon. Many gaming tables and slot machines were not being used, there was little business at the shops, and the row of restaurants off the casino floor were not crowded. Some were closed. People had plenty of room to social distance, but less than half of the patrons appeared to be wearing face masks.

Retired Florida residents James and Barbara Zimmer said friends persuaded them to come to Las Vegas for the weekend.

“We‘re here to have fun,” Barbara said. “We needed a taste of being normal.”

James, a retired family physician, added, “It’s nice to see people out enjoying themselves. You’ve got to live your life.”

The Zimmers, who live near West Palm Beach, said the MGM Grand offered them a free room, and they gladly took it.

— Jeff German

2:30 p.m.

Lines

The pool was the place to be at the Flamingo.

The line to get in extended about 50 feet in the middle of the afternoon. Some said they had waited 15 minutes already but “at least the line was moving,” one woman said.

Once the pool hit capacity — 50 percent of the usual number — a pool patron could only enter as someone else left.

Social distancing in line? Forget it, even though 6-foot barriers were clearly marked.

As has been the case in other casinos, most of the facial coverings were evident at the table games, but not in the slot machine area.

Blackjacks was being paid 6:5 and the table minimums were at $10.

— Richard N. Velotta

Plans preserved

A blast of cigarette smoke greeted those entering El Cortez on Saturday for a weekend of fun.

“I noticed it a lot because I don’t smoke,” said Ken Nekic, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, who was in town on business and plans to run a half marathon at Zion National Park Saturday night.

Nekic has been coming to the historic hotel-casino for years. His father was a professional gambler who relished the joint.

“I like the old school, Rat Pack concept,” Nekic said.

Gamblers in the race and sports bar were spaced, and few wore masks as they studied wager sheets and watched closed circuit races in parks that included Santa Anita in California.

Video poker at the casino bar was a big hit with the Marlboro and Budweiser set.

About half the gaming tables had patrons.

El Cortez has a loyal clientele, and outside waiting to check in to the hotel were three friends from Loveland, Colorado. They prefer the downtown site over anything on the Strip.

“We wouldn’t even stay at the Bellagio,” said Debbie Eckrich, 50.

Eckrich and Leann Mock, 40, and Libby Stuntz, 43, arrived for the weekend of fun planned before the coronavirus closures of casinos in Las Vegas.

“We had plans to come before Covid,” Mock said. “We were glad we didn’t have to cancel.”

— Gary Martin

2:00 p.m.

A quiet Saturday for restaurants

Saturday morning through mid-afternoon, restaurants at some Strip resorts didn’t seem any busier than they had on reopening day Thursday.

Sadelle’s at Bellagio, which had several large parties at tables overlooking the Conservatory, was the sole bright spot. The quick-service Brioche at Caesars Palace was deserted, the property’s Pronto nearly so. Restaurants at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, New York New York and MGM Grand were mostly quiet.

The biggest draws seemed to be resort pools, judging from the number of swimsuits in the resorts and crowds that gave masked lifeguards more to do than they’d had Thursday. Masks were more in evidence everywhere, though hardly universal.

— Heidi Rinella

1:15 p.m.

Cleaning chips

At Caesars Palace, there were plenty of gamblers filling the seats at the table games with others scattered around the slot floor.

Blackjack play was so robust that the table minimums were $25, $50 and $100.

There was some stoppage at tables as pit personnel took time out to sanitize ships that were in play.

As has been the case since casinos reopened Thursday, only about half of the players wore face coverings. At the table games, they were required to wear them.

Caesars’ poker room continued to be closed, and the race and sports book was quiet with the big screens showing past events and a large red health and safety sign.

There was little traffic at The Forum Shops and signs stating that benches and smoking areas were closed were ignored.

— Richard N. Velotta

1:00 p.m.

Like old times

Written on the Sunset Station marquee facing Sunset Road in Henderson were “DOORS OPEN, HEARTS OPEN.”

Sunset Station is back in business after the coronavirus-caused pause, and in many ways little has changed.

The casino was still abuzz with those playing table or electronic games, and the aroma emanating from Fatburger near the movie theaters was as striking as ever.

But there were noticeable differences as well.

A maximum of four guests were allowed, or at least suggested, in each of the elevators from the garage to the casino floor. Upon entering, everyone underwent a temperature check, and signs were posted throughout about the importance of maintaining safety. Employees wore black or red T-shirts that read “Play it Safe” on the back.

Probably about 80 percent of players, though, did not wear masks, and spaced themselves out at the machines. Nearly every machine was operational, so a packed casino would have made social distancing challenging.

No partitions stood between dealers and blackjack and poker players, but only three seats were available for the players at each statio, so they weren’t shoulder to shoulder.

Players had their gaming faces on as they were either involved in wagering, hurriedly on their way to a different part of the casino, or taking a break to eat lunch.

About 50 bettors were in the horse racing part of the sports book as action was shown from different tracks on the big screens. About another dozen were seated in chairs spaced out on the sports-betting side.

It wasn’t much different from many Saturday afternoons in Sunset, except the crowd seemed a little smaller than usual with the theater and buffet still not open.

— Mark Anderson

Light traffic

Inside Bellagio there was room to socially distance Saturday, with light foot traffic and a calm scene on the casino floor.

Four people waited to get inside the Louis Vuitton store as clerks controlled the amount of people inside, but most stores did not have many customers and some shops, including Prada, were closed altogether.

Foot traffic seemed to pick up as the afternoon went on.

Vahagn and Victoria Mkrtchyan, who live in Los Angeles, said they booked a room at the Bellagio for the weekend because they were tired of staying home.

“People want to get away, Vahagn said. “You’re going to see a lot more people coming here.”

He said the couple has been going to pool, dining at restaurants and shopping.

Gambling was not on his agenda because he quit a couple of years ago, he said.

But he and his wife couldn’t resist a special discount his former casino host gave them for their rooms, he said.

Both had face masks, but said they weren’t worried about the coronavirus during their stay.

– Jeff German

12:00 p.m.

‘Back and working’

Boredom drove Ron and Terri Smitherling to The D early Saturday, one of the first stops for the couple that planned to hit other gaming parlors at South Point, Silverton and Green Valley Ranch Resort before heading back to their Henderson home.

“It’s nice to get out,” Ron, 67, said outside The D and heading west on Fremont Street with wife, Terri, 69. Both were wearing face masks and Terri said she enjoyed being out early because “it’s not so crowded.”

The weather also cooperated with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees at noon.

After months of shutdown, the couple said they were glad to see businesses reopened and people going in and out of shops, restaurants and the casinos.

“Everybody is excited about being back and working,”

— Gary Martin

11:30 a.m.

Supporting local businesses

A stiff breeze and cooler temperatures greeted local residents and tourists Saturday who strolled in and out of casinos and souvenir shops at the Fremont Street Experience downtown.

“We are just enjoying the beautiful day,” said Ty Stavely, 55, of Henderson.

Stavely and Rafi Sarkis, 69, hit White Castle for hamburgers and were headed to the Golden Nugget to test their luck.

A nurse who has been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, Stavely said they “hit the casinos at 12:01 a.m. Thursday” when many casinos reopened after a 78-day shutdown.

Sarkis said the governor-mandated shutdown hurt many local businesses and blamed public leaders for the resulting financial impacts.

“We’ve had reservations every night” since restaurants reopened, Stavely said.

— Gary Martin

11:00 a.m.

New normal

Adam Broyles and Dan Rosenman stood just outside the Green Valley Ranch Resort sports book wearing Utah Jazz jerseys, but neither is from Salt Lake City.

Broyles has lived in the Las Vegas area for about six years, and Rosenman moved here from Washington, D.C., earlier this year. They were at Green Valley betting on the UFC card scheduled for Saturday night.

Neither wore masks, and Broyles said he works for a credit card company with about 600 employees and wasn’t worried about social distancing and other precautions.

“I came back when they opened up (Thursday),” said Broyles, 34. “I’m a people manager, so I have to deal with all the (coronavirus) scare.”

Horse racing from New York’s Belmont Park was taking place behind them on the big screens, and a NASCAR Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway was on smaller screens.

“I love to bet sports,” said Rosenman, 36. “I moved here right before the quarantine, so it was bad timing, but I’m so excited to get back here now.”

The friends weren’t alone in not wearing masks; about half the casino customers didn’t wear them.

But there were signs throughout the casino emphasizing safety, and each person who entered Green Valley underwent a temperature check. Most players kept their distance from others as they sat at gaming machines, even though nearly all were available for play.

Only three players were allowed at the blackjack and poker tables, but there were no partitions.

— Mark Anderson

First weekend back

Be on the lookout for a bunch of California license plates on vehicles Saturday on the Strip.

While Thursday was reopening day across the state for hundreds of casinos to reopen, Saturday is the first weekend day since mid-March for resorts to welcome people hoping to get away from months of COVID-19 stress and days of protest and demonstration concerns.

Analysts and resort operators agree that the drive-in market — customers from California, Arizona and Utah — and locals are providing the pent-up demand to make Saturday a big day for the resorts.

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