weather icon Clear

Masks are given out at casinos now. We checked to see who’s wearing them.

All across the Las Vegas Valley, hotel-casinos were dealing out more than just chips and cards this week. There was also an abundance of complimentary face masks, one of the many changes seen in a post-COVID-19 Las Vegas.

Despite the availability of face coverings, Review-Journal staff and experts who toured casinos on Thursday and Friday said only about half of visitors were seen wearing masks. Others chose to ignore social distancing rules, despite reminders placed throughout properties.

“We can educate (visitors) on the benefits of wearing a mask,” Gov. Steve Sisolak told the Review-Journal on Friday. “(Casinos) encourage their guests to, they provide them to the guests if they don’t have them with them, and I think that’s the best that we can do.”

‘A pretty good start’

Sisolak said at least half of the visitors he saw when touring casinos on Friday had masks on.

“I’m pretty proud of that. I think that’s a pretty good start,” he said, speaking behind a mask of his own.

Sisolak said a face covering can make “a big, big difference,” but he doesn’t believe casinos should force customers to wear them in order to enter the building.

“I don’t want to have guests coming in here to have a good time and mandate that we wear a mask,” Sisolak said. “A lot of these folks are coming from other areas where they don’t encourage masks as much as we do. So there’s an education process involved here, and we’re encouraging folks to do that.”

Nevada Gaming Control Board chairwoman Sandra Morgan agreed, and said it wouldn’t make sense to require every guest to wear a mask — especially those that have certain medical issues.

“Strongly encouraging people to wear a mask and making them available is definitely something that we can do, and we’ve done responsibly,” she said.

Social distancing and the use of facial coverings varied from casino to casino in the two days since they reopened.

At Caesars Palace, reporters observed about a 50-50 split of mask wearers and non-wearers.

Most of the players at the table games in the Palace Casino near the main entrance wore masks while playing. But a majority of slot-machine players did not cover up.

Social distancing also was spotty.

Caesars’ front-desk lobby was well marked and there was signage throughout the property asking people to observe social distancing.

But in hotel elevators, where there’s signage and the floors are marked asking that each car hold just four passengers, the suggestions were ignored. There were no Caesars employees managing the elevators.

There was similar signage at the parking garage elevators and the company added floor signs after Thursday’s opening. But customers ignored the advice.

Enforcement at casinos

Caesars Entertainment Corp. spokesman Richard Broome said the company requires staff and guests at table games to wear masks, and has them available to guests. There is also “ample signage” around properties that encourage mask-wearing.

According to requirements laid out by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, gaming licensees must have face coverings available for patrons and guests, and encourage them to wear face coverings while in public places on property.

While the Control Board doesn’t require casino employees to wear face masks, many casino operators have added that stipulation themselves.

But social distancing is more of a choice.

“Enforcement of social distancing rules will be achieved by a combination of visual cues, employee encouragement and self-policing by guests and employees,” Broome said in an email.

All staff at Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s Las Vegas properties, including retail employees, wear face coverings at work.

Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver said about half of its guests so far have chosen to wear a mask, and more are doing so when walking through a public area.

“When they are in their own social group at a dining table, already physically distanced from other guests, most do not,” he said.

On Thursday, MGM President and Acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said face masks are “essential” to keep staff and guests alike safe.

“We encourage our customers to wear them, and hopefully they will,” he said.

MGM spokeswoman Callie Driehorst added that the company makes masks readily available and complimentary throughout properties.

“We are encouraged by guests’ response so far (on) our health and safety plan,” she said via email.

David Strow, spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp., said the company is pleased so far with how many customers are taking masks seriously.

“While we don’t have exact figures, a good portion of our customers understand the importance of wearing face coverings in public settings, and have been wearing masks while they are with us,” he said. “Wearing a face covering is mandatory for our team members, and it is strongly encouraged for all customers.”

A Station Casinos spokesperson said “many” of its guests are wearing face masks, and its properties provide complimentary masks and encourage their use among guests.

Keith Salwoski, spokesman for The Venetian, said all staff members must wear FDA-approved masks, and the company encourages guests to wear masks by providing complimentary masks in personal amenity kits, at thermal screening stations and in the casino.

Personal freedoms

While major U.S. airlines are forcing customers to wear masks, few other industries are requiring their use.

Josh Swissman, founding partner of Las Vegas gaming and hospitality consulting firm The Strategy Organization, agreed that casinos are better off allowing customers the ability to choose whether or not to cover their faces.

“Las Vegas is a town of individualism, and people enjoy themselves in Vegas in a number of different ways,” he said. “This is just an extension of that freedom that the town and these operators provide.”

He added that certain activities casinos offer — including eating, drinking and smoking — are not compatible with face masks.

Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors agreed, and said casinos are keeping guests’ comfort in mind.

“It all goes to individuality and what people feel comfortable with,” he said.

Las Vegas-based Union Gaming analyst John Decree said it appeared visitors in both local and Strip casinos were OK with the new protocols.

“I think everyone had expectations there would be increased safety and hygiene in place, so no one was surprised,” he said.

He saw more customers wearing personal protective equipment on the Strip compared to local properties, but said that could be a product of the Strip having more visitors from California, who “have experienced more cases and restrictions back home than we did here in Nevada.”

Kearney, Nebraska resident Josh Jorgensen, who traveled to the Bellagio with his wife Thursday to celebrate their anniversary, said he saw about half of the guests wearing masks on Thursday — although he saw fewer were doing so on the casino floor.

He didn’t wear a mask his entire time on the property, but he did make sure to grab one from one of the property’s mask stations after leaving the pool.

“I wear it when I feel like I should,” he said. “The staff here, they’re taking it seriously, and they’re doing an excellent job making sure that … masks are available whenever you need it.”

Vikki Leach, who traveled from Los Angeles to stay at Bellagio opening day, said she’s seen more people wearing a mask than not.

Others “don’t even have them around their neck,” she said. But “it’s very few.”

While some visitors’ response to masks seems nonchalant, it’s unlikely this group of travelers represents the mindset of the general American population, according to Brian Labus, an assistant professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at UNLV and a member of the medical team advising Sisolak.

“You’ll see a lot of lax attitudes about this among tourists,” he said. “The people are less concerned about the virus. … They’re willing to travel with people in the middle of an outbreak.”

An altruistic gesture

Labus believes masks are an important tool to curb the spread of COVID-19.

They help reduce transmission of the virus from one person to another, and are especially useful among carriers who don’t show symptoms, he said. Various studies — including one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have found that somewhere between 35 to 50 percent of those carrying the virus are asymptomatic.

“We know that asymptomatic people who don’t cough can still spread the disease,” Labus said. “The masks are a simple and important piece of all our efforts to mitigate the risks of bringing people together.”

Even those who do become symptomatic go through a period without symptoms where they can unknowingly spread the virus, Labus said. This period usually lasts a day or two.

While wearing a mask won’t protect the user from getting the virus, it does protect those around them.

“Think of wearing a mask like covering your mouth, like when you sneeze or cough, but you’re doing it all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything to protect you — it’s an altruistic gesture. We need everybody to do this.”

Labus suggested people wear masks when out and about, even if there is social distancing or other safety measures in place.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter. Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Eli Segall contributed to this report.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Business Videos
Is Nevada the ‘gold standard’ for casino coronavirus response? - Video
Whenever experts begin comparing gaming jurisdictions, you’re bound to hear the phrase “gold standard” dropped in the conversation. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resorts World Las Vegas activates 100,000-square-foot LED screen - VIDEO
Resorts World Las Vegas activated its 100,000-square-foot LED screen on its west tower on Independence Day, showing a digital fireworks display. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Station Casinos president dies in watercraft accident - VIDEO
Richard Haskins, president of Red Rock Resorts Inc. and Station Casinos, died Saturday in a watercraft accident in Michigan, according to a statement released by the company. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hockey arena opponents erred in ballot initiative - Video
Opponents of a minor league hockey arena in Henderson collected enough verified signatures to put the disputed project on the November ballot, but then a problem emerged: A procedural error on the petition.
Layoffs at 'The Drew' force staff to sue owner
Rj Business reporter Eli Segall talks about the lawsuit and the future of the unfinished hotel and casino.
Vegas tourists react to mask mandate - VIDEO
Governor Steve Sisolak announced on Wednesday a mandate to wear face masks starting Friday. Down on the Las Vegas Strip tourists reacted on camera to the news. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA #VegasSmart social media campaign brings awareness to wearing a mask - Video
Now that Gov. Steve Sisolak has announced requirements to wear masks in public settings in the state, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will attempt to deliver the message to prospective visitors via their #VegasSmart social media campaign. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada's unemployment crisis - Video
Thousands of jobless workers turned to the state for payments after the COVID-19 shutdown in March. DETR has struggled to handle record claims. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caesars mandates guests to wear masks
Guests at Caesars Entertainment Corp. properties will be required to wear masks while inside its properties, effective immediately.
MGM Grand and Aria are reopening pool clubs - Video
MGM Grand’s Wet Republic Ultra Pool and Aria’s Liquid Pool Lounge plan to open July 2, according to a Wednesday statement from MGM Resorts International and Hakkasan Group. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Survey shows big reluctance to travel with coronavirus ablaze - VIDEO
Would-be travelers are becoming more pessimistic in their outlook about their safety when they travel. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown's Circa resort will begin taking room reservations Wednesday - Video
Circa developer Derek Stevens confirmed that when the property opens on Oct. 28, persons under the age of 21 won’t be allowed. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort will begin taking room reservations - Video
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort will begin taking room reservations on Wednesday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Culinary union expresses concerns about returning to work - Video
The Culinary union expresses its concerns about returning to work and the safety precautions that casinos are taking to ensure the safety of staff.
Bellagio poker room reopens with approval to host six-handed games - Video
The installation of plexiglass dividers between the players gave the Bellagio an edge over the other poker rooms open in Las Vegas. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Westgate reopens after coronavirus shutdown - Video
Jay Kornegay, vice president of Westgate Sportsbook, talks about the reopening of the casino on Thursday, June 18. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Final beam of Circa resort tower moved into place - Video
A crane whisked the final beam in the construction of downtown Las Vegas’ Circa resort property into place Friday morning, June 19, and crews paused momentarily, then continued working to ensure the casino's Oct. 28 opening. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paris Las Vegas reopens - Video
The Paris Las Vegas hotel-casino reopened its doors on June 18 after the statewide shutdown in response to COVID-19. (Mackenzie Behm/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masks required at casino table games in Nevada - Video
The state Gaming Control Board has ordered Nevada casinos to require players and spectators of most casino table and card games to wear protective face coverings.
Downtown Las Vegas’ Circa to open in October - Video
Circa resort-casino’s first five floors are set to open Oct. 28, according to CEO and developer Derek Stevens. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas movie theaters set July reopening date - Video
Las Vegas movie theater reopenings will start Regal, the valley’s largest exhibitor, announced Tuesday that it will reopen its theaters starting July 10, albeit in a modified fashion. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Contractors say they’re owed $36M for work done at Drew Las Vegas - Video
Three months after coronavirus turmoil shut off construction of the Drew Las Vegas, contractors have levied claims for more than $36 million in unpaid bills. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Contractors say they’re owed $36M for work done at Drew Las Vegas
Three months after coronavirus turmoil shut off construction of the Drew Las Vegas, contractors have levied claims for more than $36 million in unpaid bills. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Many Las Vegas guests ignoring COVID-19 protocols
Casinos are putting safety first but many Las Vegas guests are not socially distancing.
As Las Vegas casinos reopen, not every employee is convinced it's safe to go back.
As Las Vegas casinos reopen, some employees aren't convinced it's safe to go back.
1.54M Americans filed for unemployment last week - Video
The U.S. Labor Department released the unemployment numbers on Thursday, June 11. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1.54 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week
1.54 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week. The U.S. Labor Department released the unemployment numbers on Thursday. The number of jobless claims was just below economists' predictions of 1.55 million claims. 1.897 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance the previous week. More than 44 million Americans have filed jobless claims in the past three months. Continuing claims nearly topped 21 million. The numbers follow the May jobs report, which revealed that more than two million jobs were added to the U.S. economy in May. Initial jobless claims continued the gradual downward trend. But it is still hard to square the claims figures with the much more upbeat news on the labor market from May’s Employment Report, Capital Economics, via Yahoo Finance
Visitors return to Las Vegas
Guests returned to Las Vegas casinos throughout the weekend. Casinos reopened on Thursday after being closed for 78 days because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Sisolak tours casino property after reopening - Video
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sandra Morgan, chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, participated in a tour of the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino where they share their first thoughts on casinos reopening. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Treasure Island reboots operations after coronavirus shutdown - Video
When casinos shut down, not only were tourists unseen on the Las Vegas Strip, but jobs were temporarily lost. Treasure Island took the months off to remodel and fix the property, adjusting the casino for COVID-19 norms. Now that they’re open again, management is slowly hiring back staff as guests return. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gaming boards back Eldorado-Caesars deal

The state Gaming Control Board on Wednesday unanimously backed Reno-based Eldorado Resorts Inc.’s $17.3 billion bid to acquire Caesars Entertainment Corp. and build the world’s largest casino operation.