Updated June 3, 2020 - 2:14 pm
Hand sanitizer dispensers are the first thing you see walking into Bellagio’s main entrance.
They’re also at the front desk. Inside restaurants. Scattered across the casino floor’s table games.
With casinos gearing up to reopen Thursday — some as early as 12:01 a.m. — properties are in the full swing of preparation efforts. Tours at Suncoast, The Strat and Bellagio provided a sneak peek at what Nevada casinos’ new health and safety protocols will look like. It has yet to be seen how many guests will be there to witness the new protocols firsthand this week.
A look inside the properties
The Nevada Gaming Control Board has issued a series of requirements all casinos must uphold, including limited seating to table games and temperature screenings for resort guests.
Even so, the implementation of these rules looks different across casinos.
A Tuesday tour of Suncoast, set to open 12:01 a.m. Thursday, showed how Boyd Gaming Corp. plans to handle thermal screenings.
Guests walk in, loop their way around signs advising them to keep their distance and stay home if they feel sick, and pass by a thermal imaging camera.
If their temperature is at below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re OK to enter. If it’s above, an alarm will sound and they’ll get a chance to cool down and have their temperature screened again with a handheld device. If they still show to have a fever, they won’t be allowed inside.
Guests are also asked a series of questions on whether they’ve been exposed to the virus or show any symptoms.
Spokesman David Strow said other markets where Boyd has already reopened casinos — including Louisiana and Mississippi — report that the cameras are not showing any false positives. Each set up costs roughly $5,000.
“We’re pretty confident this is not going to create an issue, even if it gets warm (outside),” he said.
At MGM Resort International’s Bellagio resort and casino, set to open at 10 a.m. Thursday, plexiglass could be seen throughout the property Monday: at the front desk, atop table games, even separating booths inside restaurants.
Along with various hand-sanitizing stations, hand-washing stations have been installed throughout the property, each plugged into the building’s water supply system.
“You’ve got the touchless soap, you’ve got the touchless paper towel dispensers. On some of these you’ll have the mask dispensers, you’ll have glove dispensers,” MGM Vice President of Administration and Head of Health and Safety Strategy John Flynn said. “We wanted to bring hand-washing, first and foremost, to the front of everyone’s minds.”
MGM’s senior vice president of food and beverage strategy, Dominique Bertolone, used Bellagio’s Sadelle’s Cafe as an example of changes in restaurants.
“Our goal was to continue to provide a contactless experience,” he said. “But we also wanted to ensure that food and beverage remains fun, and we created some wow moments.”
Technology, specifically QR codes, will play a large role in the new experience. Guests arriving at a restaurant or lounge can get on a virtual wait-list for a table or a seat at the bar by scanning a QR code with their phones, then receive a text when their seats are ready. Once seated, they’ll be presented with a similar code that brings up the menu on their phones. At more casual spots, like Sadelle’s, the menu code will be printed on a coaster. At more upscale eateries, the presentation will be a little different.
“In our contemporary and fine dining (restaurants), we are creating a card that will be personalized by the celebrity chef, welcoming you back, with a little message and the QR code,” Bertolone says. “That’s something that is important for us, as we wanted to create some of the wow moments.”
Other measures on display on Monday included custom-branded masks for workers, signs that indicate an area or a table had been sanitized, and a “bartender safe zone” behind the bar where bartenders can prepare cocktails away from guests. Some restaurants will offer disposable cases for storing face masks while you eat.
Similar measures will be found at other MGM properties — including New York-New York and the MGM Grand, which are also set to open Thursday.
“Health and safety is first and foremost,” Flynn said. “Getting this done right and doing this methodically is of paramount importance to us. ”
Strow echoed a similar sentiment.
“The guest experience is going to change. It has to,” he said. “We’re going to reopen safely, we’re going to have to take certain precautions such as this to make sure we are keeping everybody health and safe. … At the end of the day that’s the most important thing we can do right now.”
He added that Boyd will strongly encourage visitors to wear masks, and has so far purchased more than 3 million to share.
“We are prepared for this, and we’re hopeful that folks will take us up on this as they come and visit this property,” Strow said. “The last thing anybody in this community wants to see is a resurgence. And so we know that by taking the measures we are taking today, that’s an investment in reopening the city safely.”
On MGM’s casino floor, rows of slot machines had every other machine turned off to make sure guests keep their distance.
Meanwhile, Golden Entertainment Corp.’s Strat had a different approach to separating gamblers: Every other chair has been removed so that players can rearrange chairs to play the games they like. Suncoast took a similar approach.
All three properties have social distancing reminders, but The Strat tried to have some fun with the floor stickers near the front desk, with each asking or answering trivia questions, such as “When did the skypod open?” and “How many times have guests taken the leap at Skyjump?”
The check-in process is also being shaken up at the two properties.
An automatic counter makes sure The Strat doesn’t surpass 50 percent occupancy levels. Once resort guests walk in, they’re directed to have their temperature taken with a handheld thermal scanner.
After the temperature screen, guests can use self check-in kiosks with antimicrobial sheets covering the screens or visit a front desk agent separated with plexiglass. Kiosks will be sanitized after each use.
At Bellagio, guests have the option to check in with a staff member at a plexiglass-covered front desk or check in themselves with their mobile device. QR codes inside the building help guests find the check-in app, and a room key is sent directly to their smartphone. For those who need extra room keys, they can prepare one themselves with a machine at the front desk.
“We’ve really reinvigorated how we handle the check-in process,” MGM Vice President of Hotel Operations Andy Meese said. “With everything going on right now and the focus on health and safety, we wanted to make sure we had a contactless experience for our guests when we reopened the property.”
Flynn didn’t say how much the additional plexiglass, washing stations and other measures cost MGM.
“When it comes to health and safety, when it comes to trust and confidence both in your employees and your guests, there isn’t a price you can put on that, especially when you’re trying to get everybody back to work.”
The Strat also had measures that went beyond the Control Board’s requirements. For example, General Manager and Vice President Stephen Thayer said a disinfectant fogger will be used to spread antibacterial spray on items on the casino floor and in restaurants every night to get in “all the cracks and crevices.”
He hopes all of these new protocols will help ward off a second wave of the virus.
“You can’t be doing something like this and say (a second wave is) not in the back of your mind,” Thayer said. “But I feel good about the preparation that we’ve had, and I feel that we’ve had great cooperation with the division of gaming and the state. I think we’re at a good spot. I think we’re doing everything we can to create that environment that won’t be putting people at risk.”
Good, clean fun
Flynn said reopening preparations at MGM started about two months ago. A large number of staff members started coming back Monday morning, although an MGM representative wasn’t able to say how many staff members are returning to work at this point.
Bellagio will keep occupancy levels to 30 percent or less for safety reasons — far below the 93.4 percent occupancy that Strip casinos saw in June 2019, according to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Thayer said The Strat, located near the north end of the Strip, started bringing back employees a week ago and expects to bring 600 to 700 employees — about 40 percent of what it had before — back for its first reopening phase.
“As volumes start picking up a little bit, we plan on bringing back as many as we can,” he said. For the employees who have returned, “it’s like friends reuniting. We haven’t seen each other in forever. It’s a lot of far-distance hugs. … People are just excited to get back to work and ready to go.”
Strow said Boyd started bringing back “several thousand” employees, and has so far reopened 12 casinos across the U.S. Twenty-one of the company’s 29 properties are set to open by June 4.
“We’ve got a lot of practice (reopening) under our belt, and so we’ve gotten pretty good at this process,” Strow said. “We’re confident we’ll be able to operate pretty smoothly come June 4.”
The Strat will have one final cleaning and disinfecting process before letting in guests at 8 a.m. Thursday.
The property has no self-restrictions on how many rooms it will fill, and expects 35 percent to 40 percent occupancy during the weekend. Thayer expects a slow week compared with what staff is used to but said business is expected to ramp up quickly, adding that he believes business will be “pretty strong” on July 4 weekend.
“The word has got to get out, and people have to experience it,” he said. “We want to make sure that it’s controlled, it’s done right, but it’s still fun.”