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Sisolak issues guidance for Nevada casinos

Updated March 15, 2020 - 7:26 pm

MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts Ltd. announced Sunday that they are suspending operations at all of their Strip resorts to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, as drastic a step as any Nevada gaming company has ever taken in response to a national emergency.

Wynn Las Vegas and Encore will close for at least two weeks beginning Tuesday. MGM will close its nine Las Vegas properties “until further notice” effective Tuesday, taking tens of thousands of hotel rooms offline amid a collapse in visitation and mass cancellations of conventions.

No other resort operators fell in behind Wynn and MGM on Sunday. Representatives for Caesars Entertainment Corp., Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Boyd Gaming Corp. told the Review-Journal they have no plans to close their Nevada casinos at this time. A spokesman for Red Rock Resorts did not respond to requests for comment. However, layoffs have begun at Caesars properties.

“As we know, gaming is the lifeblood of Nevada’s economy and the source of financial support for so many of our citizens and their families,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said. “But to protect the public health and the safety of Nevadans and visitors, I strongly support any decision our properties make … whether or not to close.”

At Wynn, the closure is expected to last two weeks, after which the company “will evaluate the situation,” according to a Sunday statement from the company.

All full-time Wynn Las Vegas and Encore employees will continue to be paid during the shutdown, and a limited number of employees and management will remain at the properties to secure and maintain the facility.

Wynn already had made plans to close its poker room and race and sportsbook earlier this week, and began temporarily canceling all large entertainment gatherings — including buffets, nightclubs and theater presentations — in its Las Vegas and Boston resorts this weekend.

On Friday, Wynn CEO Matt Maddox sent a video assuring workers their jobs are safe as the industry experiences a downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.

MGM, which started organizing for layoffs Friday, already had closed several restaurants, theaters, dayclubs and nightclubs. The company also relocated guests at its nongaming Vdara property to Aria on Sunday. An MGM entertainment staple, Cirque du Soleil, announced that its shows would go dark through mid-April.

A statement from MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said the temporary closures are for “the good of our employees, guests and communities.”

“It is now apparent that this is a public health crisis that requires major collective action if we are to slow its progression,” Murren said. “We will plan to reopen our resorts as soon as it (is) safe to do so and we will continue to support our employees, guests, and communities in every way that we can during this period of closure.”

MGM said more details on closing procedures, timelines and other issues related to the temporary suspension would be released soon.

In a Sunday letter addressed to MGM employees obtained by the Review-Journal, the company said full-time employees being furloughed or laid off will be paid two weeks from their last day of work, and all employees on the company’s health plan will maintain benefits through June 30.

The letter, signed by Murren, further stated that salaried employees “should expect to continue working until further notice.”

“We deeply regret the strain it will cause families and our community partners, and we will do all we can to mitigate it,” the letter reads. “When we do (reopen), we will be ready to welcome the world back to our properties.”

Standards for staying open

For resorts that remain open in the weeks ahead, Sisolak ordered fewer people at table games and more rigorous cleaning of slot machines.

With state Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Morgan at his side, Sisolak said a maximum of three players would be permitted at table games in accordance with new social distancing guidelines and all gaming machines must be cleaned and sanitized at a minimum of every two hours.

In addition, he said any buffets that remain open must be served by employees instead of by patrons. Employee dining areas can remain open, but employees must not serve themselves.

Sisolak said the casino floor and other public areas are expected to be in compliance with the latest social gathering distances from Nevada’s medical advisory team. The guidance recommends to maintain spaces at half their room marshal-enforced capacity, so people won’t be so close to one another.

Take care of employees

The governor also urged companies that plan to close to take care of their employees.

“I urge these licensees to do their best to protect the paid benefits of their workforce during this difficult time,” he said. “Many of them have school-aged children and other family members that they need to provide for. Your workforce is there for you day in and day out. Please be there for them during these challenging times.”

In a statement, Culinary Local 226 spokeswoman Bethany Khan said the union has new proposals on the table for additional worker protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are about 60,000 workers in Las Vegas with union contracts, including MGM workers.

In a Saturday statement to members, the union said it would “continue to negotiate with casino and hotel employers … to protect workers during these difficult times.”

“We are working with the employers to identify any job opportunities and make sure they are made available to laid-off workers, including available work in other classifications if needed and if worker is qualified,” the statement reads.

The governor offered a shout-out to three casino companies — Boyd Gaming Corp., Station Casinos Inc. and South Point — for working with the state to provide distribution areas for Clark County School District children to pick up food.

Closures ordered elsewhere

Sisolak’s order came after the issuance of executive orders and gaming regulatory decisions to close properties in seven other states that offer casino gambling.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Sunday ordered that state’s casinos, racetracks and simulcast betting facilities closed by Monday, while regulatory bodies in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Indiana and Illinois has previously issued similar directives, impacting multiple Nevada-based operators.

MGM has properties in Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland, while Caesars, Eldorado Resorts, and Boyd have properties in Illinois. Boyd also has properties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

Three Indian tribes in Southern California voluntarily closed their resorts over the weekend as a precaution. The San Manuel Casino in Highland, the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula and Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center are planning closures through the end of March. Harrah’s, owned by the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians, is managed by Caesars.

Both Wynn and MGM were among the companies that experienced the first coronavirus-related closures in the gaming industry in Macao. The government of the Chinese enclave ordered the market’s 41 casinos closed for 15 days in mid-February in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus.

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

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

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