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Visitors ready for Las Vegas, regardless of pandemic, protests

Updated June 2, 2020 - 6:30 pm

Jason Sumpter isn’t letting anything get in his way of having a good time in Las Vegas.

Not the novel coronavirus. Not demonstrations. Nothing.

The Janesville, Wisconsin, resident will arrive at the Flamingo on Friday afternoon with his brother and nephews for a bachelor party. It’s his first time here since 2016.

Sumpter booked the trip in February, “right before the world went crazy,” and said neither protests nor a pandemic will get in the way.

“We plan on staying up on information where the protests are happening and staying away as best we can,” he said. “If they’re downtown, we just stay by the Strip. If they’re at the Strip, we’ll go downtown.”

Sumpter joined dozens of other visitors planning to be among the first to arrive, even as the city endures a rapidly changing landscape of new resort reopening times on Thursday, National Guard troops supporting local police, the possibility of curfews, and reopening plans that will make casino interiors look a little different.

Wynn changes opening

Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s two Strip properties will open at 10 a.m., Thursday, instead of 12:01 a.m., as casino companies pivoted quickly to rapidly changing conditions.

The company announced the switch Tuesday as industry leaders pondered reopening changes in light of escalating tensions resulting from protests in Las Vegas and across the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. Protests on the Strip have gotten more violent, with two separate shootings Monday night.

“We believe it is in the best interests of our guests and employees to move our reopening time to 10 a.m. on June 4,” a company statement said.

The Wynn properties were among a handful of resorts that had planned to open as early as Gov. Steve Sisolak authorized it.

Downtown’s El Cortez also changed its reopening time from 12:01 to 8 a.m., on Thursday, but officials there had no comment on the reason.

Spokesmen for Wynn and El Cortez didn’t address a question posed about security measures, but others did.

“We will have an increased security presence starting Thursday and through the weekend,” said Rich Broome, a spokesman for Caesars Entertainment. “As always, we will coordinate closely with law enforcement.”

MGM Resorts International spokesman Brian Ahearn said the company is “constantly” updating its procedures in coordination with its partners in security and law enforcement.

“We have a security team highly trained in crowd control and we work very closely with Metro on issues relating to large groups and protests,” he said.  

Downtown ready

Downtown properties said they are also assessing security needs.

“Our guests’ and employees’ safety remains our top priority,” said representatives of the D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate. “We are actively coordinating with our internal security teams and local law enforcement on how to best handle crowd control. We also are working closely with Metro on heightening security and managing issues related to large groups during reopening week. With this in mind, we will still move forward with our reopening plans for the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate Hotel & Casino (hotels) on June 3.”

And Kevin Glass, general manager of the Downtown Grand, added, “The Downtown Grand looks to ensure the safety of our guests and team members at all times. In light of recent activities we will be closely monitoring the ongoing situation and following the direction of local authorities.”

With all the readiness, visitors coming from all parts of the country and beyond are ready to have some Las Vegas fun.

Tracy Lawson, of Ontario, Canada, is set to stay at the MGM Grand from Sunday through June 12, despite increased tensions among protesters and law enforcement across the country.

“I am not altering any plans,” she said. “I am heartbroken about what is going on in the U.S. and Las Vegas. My heart goes out to the police that were shot trying to protect people while allowing for peaceful protest. I feel safe coming there and know that the resorts, law enforcement and the city will do whatever it takes to keep their visitors and citizens safe.”

Lawson typically visits Las Vegas at least four times a year, and has already had to cancel three trips due to the shutdowns.

“I do not want to miss another,” she said. “I want to support my favorite place anyway I can. I forget about all the stresses of life when I’m there. It’s always my go-to vacation, and I wasn’t going to let the virus stop me from returning.”

‘Somewhat worried’

Leeann Kerr of Birch Bay, Washington, is set to arrive in Las Vegas on Thursday with friends. She said she’s “somewhat worried” about the protests, but conversations with her casino host at The D have assured her that they will have extra security in place.

“We’ve discussed whether we should put this off or not,” she said. “(But) we’ve been quarantined for three months and we are ready to go and have some fun.”

Others have altered their plans somewhat.

Chicago native Eric Sanders said the protests have “screwed up” his upcoming Las Vegas trip on Thursday.

He’ll be staying at Red Rock Resort, and plans to stay at the hotel pool and visit Red Rock Canyon during the day, “playing everything else by ear.” He has concerns that the city will impose a curfew or block access to the Strip or Fremont Street while he’s on vacation.

He plans to avoid the Strip altogether, over fears of being “assaulted or robbed” or arrested.  

“If we are (on the Strip), it’s going to be extremely dangerous. … It’s too risky,” he said. “I don’t want to drive a rental car down there just to find out it’s damaged, stolen or set on fire.”

He added that the only reason he hasn’t cancelled the trip is because his plane lands around 4 p.m. — when it’s still light outside — and because he’s staying at an off-Strip property.

“If we were staying on the Strip, we’d cancel,” he said via email. “If we were arriving at night, we’d cancel. The airport is too close to downtown and past protests have occurred at airports in other cities. Inconvenience is one thing, but not being able to enjoy the Strip to the point we are unsure everything is open, operational and safe … is just a deal breaker.”

Pulled the plug

But others have pulled the plug and will come later in the year instead.

John Dever, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, changed plans for his Las Vegas trip after learning that there were two shootings during Monday night’s protest.

“My fear is not knowing what will happen tonight, that it could get worse,” he said. “The casinos could decide to delay reopening, then I’m stuck. … I wasn’t concerned for my safety, but if casinos say ‘our restaurants will close,’ I didn’t feel like dealing with it.”

He booked a June 4 stay immediately after Sisolak said Nevada casinos would be allowed to reopen then. He said he visits Las Vegas every couple of months, and has missed amenities like the casino floors, restaurants and pools — especially since shutdowns in his area are still strict.

“I’ve been waiting and waiting for (Las Vegas) to reopen, I was determined to be there when it did,” he said.

He’s already rebooked a trip for the week of July 4 but said there’s a chance he could be in Las Vegas sooner.

“If things go OK tonight and it doesn’t look bad, I might still jump on a plane Thursday. Who knows,” he said. “I still want to get there.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter. Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @Bailey_Schulz on Twitter.

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