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Las Vegas Strip to come back with differences, analysts say

Updated April 19, 2020 - 8:03 am

Gaming industry analysts say casinos will be in the first wave of business reopenings from the coronavirus shutdown, but not all markets will look the same when they do.

One analyst told investors the Strip would be the last to recover.

Industry professionals, union leaders and hospitality scholars have different perceptions of what the rebound will look like, but nearly everybody is unclear on what people want to know most: When is it going to happen?

Las Vegas-based Union Gaming analyst John DeCree, in a report to investors issued Friday, said he expects large venues, such as casinos, to be among the first to open based on guidelines issued Thursday by the Trump administration.

“It is still unclear what distancing protocol for casinos would look like but could include reduced gaming capacity, greater spacing between active slot machines, fewer seats at live gaming tables, and masks for dealers,” DeCree said in the report.

While casinos could likely reopen under the federal Phase 1 guidelines, some of their amenities such as bars and nightclubs would need to wait until Phase 2 or 3, the report said.

Different looks nationwide

Carlo Santarelli, a gaming analyst with Deutsche Bank in New York, said the reopening plan is going to look different in Nevada than it will in Atlantic City, Mississippi or Midwest markets with riverboat casinos.

“We don’t expect there to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Santorelli’s report said.

Macao is expected to be the first gaming market to recover, followed by the domestic regional market, and “lastly, the Las Vegas Strip,” he said in the report.

Santarelli foresees three utilizable seats per table with more open tables than normal, to facilitate the physical spread of the demand.

“We expect table minimums to start at $25 in regional markets, and perhaps $50 on the LV Strip, given lower minimum bet tables would be unprofitable, in our view, once staffing is considered,” Santarelli said.

Some amenities going away

He said electronic table games would play a more significant role on the casino floor and that poker rooms will remain closed.

“We expect distancing measures to likely make it such that every other slot in a given bank is shut off, though, given configurations of slot layouts on casino floors, this doesn’t necessarily imply a 50 percent reduction of capacity,” he said.

Amenity experiences are also likely to change, he said. Buffets, a Las Vegas staple for years, are “almost sure to remain closed,” with regional facilities likely offering little more than thinly staffed grab-and-go offerings.

“We expect, in both large-scale and smaller properties, offerings such as spas, theaters, convention centers, nightclubs, and pools to remain closed, or, at best, sparsely opened,” he said. “We expect entertainment schedules to be nonexistent for the foreseeable future.”

The anticipated changes in the resorts will likely affect employees, and the Culinary union is calling for guarantees to protect those workers.

Union negotiating

Culinary Local 226 is negotiating with resorts for several benefits necessitated by the coronavirus shutdown.

The union is seeking pay during the entire closure for all workers, five paid sick days, no discipline to any worker who calls out sick or is in quarantine, paid leave if a worker needs to self-quarantine or care for a family member who is in quarantine, up to six months of paid health benefits for workers in the event of a layoff and a leave of absence for workers who request one during this time.

The union also asked for additional training and all of the necessary supplies for workers in accordance with the guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and an enhanced cleaning standard for all areas of casinos.

It is unclear when resorts will reopen, but Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the resorts and support organizations are gearing up now to be ready for when that happens.

“That’s really up to the governor and I’m sure he will make those decisions in consultation with the medical community as well,” Hill said. “We’re not in a position to dictate a timeline. It helps to be prepared for when that opportunity presents itself. We’re in consultation with the properties on that and trying to help.”

Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the Nevada Resort Association, said the industry’s first priority is the health and safety of employees, guests and residents.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in Nevada as it unfolds and remain optimistic that a resolution is near,” she said. “Our members understand it is critical to take a measured approach that ensures the reopening of Nevada’s tourism industry is done strategically and correctly for the long-term health of our industry and its reputation.”

While change may be in the cards at casinos, a veteran industry observer and former executive of MGM Resorts International said now is a great time for Las Vegas to reinvent itself.

“Everyone talks about innovation. Nothing motivates innovation and creativity quite like crisis,” said Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Bailey Schulz and Rachel Crosby contributed to this story.

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