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Strip hotels winding down operations as part of 30-day shutdown

The casino floor at the Strat was empty Wednesday morning, except for a few employees with gloves wiping down escalators and tables. Its slot machines were dark, and its storefronts remained closed. The only noise came from clanking bottles as employees cleaned out a bar.

Outside, guests rushed toward parking garage elevators that smelled strongly of cleaning products.

“Can’t talk, have a flight to catch,” one said as she hurriedly pressed the up button.

Gov. Steve Sisolak’s move to close all nonessential Nevada businesses for 30 days is meant to help stem the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. But it has also thrown a wrench in many travelers’ plans, and left many employees wondering where they’ll get their next paycheck.

Travelers rushing home

Few people walked Las Vegas Boulevard on Wednesday morning, giving the Strip an eerie silence.

Inside, properties worked toward closing down hotel operations. At Sahara Las Vegas, Nancy Lacuesta and Jeff Charbonneau said they got a call at 11 a.m. telling them they had only one night left at the hotel.

The Hawaii-based couple was hoping to go out for a nice dinner in Las Vegas that night to celebrate Lacuesta’s 50th birthday. Instead, the two said they might hit up a McDonald’s drive-thru.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. You had 9/11, you had the recession, and life went on. … But this is like, wow,” Charbonneau said.

At the Palms, security guards watched over the self-parking entrances, turning away anyone who tried to get into the property. The Red Rock Resorts-owned property is set to close its hotel by 6 p.m. Thursday.

A Tuesday statement from Golden Entertainment, which operates the Strat, said the company would shut down hotels within 48 hours following Sisolak’s orders. The Strat’s website said its hotel would close by 11 a.m. Thursday.

Woo Je, an exchange student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, was supposed to stay at the property for three nights, but had to cut his trip short a day.

“They said we couldn’t stay,” he said as he walked out of the property. “We’re very concerned (to fly during the outbreak). We planned to go to Los Angeles, but we canceled. … For tourists, (the shutdown is) not good. But I think it’s for U.S. citizens.”

Nathalea Neiva, who had been visiting from Brazil, said she was originally staying at Excalibur before she had to move to the Strat. MGM Resort International properties closed Tuesday.

Now, she’s trying to find a way home; as of Wednesday, she wasn’t sure when she could schedule a flight to Brazil.

“We are afraid because of the airlines,” she said. “We tried to call the airlines, and we were on hold more than two hours. … There’s no information. We don’t know anything.”

Dawn Hanson was staying at Bally’s this week with a group of friends.

They had planned to leave Wednesday on a flight booked for 7 p.m., and originally thought they’d hang out at the casino after they checked out of the hotel that morning.

But then the casino closed, and their flight was pushed back to 11:59 p.m.

Hanson said a shuttle was picking them up to take them to McCarran International Airport, where they’d sit for 12 hours and wait for their flight.

“They told us we would still be able to get breakfast at the restaurants this morning, but when we woke up, they were all closed,” Hanson said. “We had to walk to CVS – which was open, thank God – and get sandwiches.”

Impact on employees

According to the American Gaming Association, 96 percent of the country’s casino workforce was affected by mass closures as of Wednesday afternoon. A Wednesday report from the U.S. Travel Association found the virus will cost the U.S. travel sector 4.6 million jobs by the end of April.

Station Casinos said it would continue to offer regular pay and health benefits to all hourly and salaried full-time team members through April 30, and has moved several hundred part-time employees to full-time status so they could receive full benefits.

But one on-call Station Casinos employee, who was granted anonymity to protect her ability to go back to work, said her job didn’t make the cut.

She said she’s since been trying to file for unemployment for two days, but the phone lines are so busy, she can’t get through.

The worker said she’s not concerned for herself — she got a “really nice” tax refund this year, and has enough money saved up to last her the next couple of months if she gets unemployment insurance benefits. It’s her co-workers she’s worried about.

“It’s like a little vacation for me,” she said. But “most of us live paycheck to paycheck.”

The employee said she thought the 30-day shutdown “may be overkill,” but she said she understood why the decision was made.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “Thousands of people are dying.”

Las Vegas Sands Corp. confirmed Wednesday that all employees will be paid during the mandated 30-day closure, and no layoffs are being considered.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. said it would offer payroll coverage to all employees for 30 days.

A Caesars Entertainment Corp. spokesman said Wednesday that the company would “comply with every element of the closure order” and wants to communicate with employees before sharing it with the media.

A statement from Boyd Gaming Corp. did not address how the shutdown would affect staffing.

MGM Resorts International confirmed Wednesday that it will offer two weeks of pay and benefits for part-time and full-time furloughed employees. The company will also pay benefits for all eligible employees enrolled in MGM Resorts health plans through June 30.

Company spokespeople did not address whether employees would be paid beyond two weeks.

One MGM employee, who was granted anonymity to protect his ability to go back to work, said he worries about how he’ll be able to afford rent now that he doesn’t have a job; he signed a Facebook petition asking for forgiveness on rent and mortgage payments.

“Mortgages and rent will be still due even after the two weeks. … How are we supposed to afford it?” he said. “My apartment management company said they will waive the late fees, but that’s it.”

He said he was upset that he and other employees are worried about income while outgoing Chairman and CEO Jim Murren is leaving soon with a $32 million exit package.

“The employees (need that money) the most,” he said.

At the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, a large group of people gathered Monday morning to take photos. A small picket sign reading “closed” was duct-taped to the landmark.

Claire Stones, a tourist from England, said she’s disappointed in the shutdown and will have to return home sooner than planned. She said she wasn’t worried about the virus.

“I wish it was open,” she said.

Jerry and Anna Mary Terroba, who were taking photos of the welcome sign with a selfie stick on Monday, said they want to make the most of their anniversary trip, even if it was cut short.

“We’ll see if we can get a steak at the supermarket,” Jerry Terroba said. “Maybe takeout, have a toast.”

Overall, they said they weren’t worried about catching the virus in Las Vegas.

“It doesn’t make a difference, being in Las Vegas or anywhere else,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, crowded travel settings like airports “may increase chances of getting COVID-19, if there are other travelers with coronavirus infection. … Depending on your unique circumstances, you may choose to delay or cancel your plans.”

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

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Rick Velotta and Alexis Egeland contributed to this report.

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