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Will Las Vegas casinos’ safety plans help lure back visitors?

Las Vegas casinos have been preparing for their upcoming Thursday reopening for months.

Operators began publishing new health and safety plans in April, listing all the steps they planned to take to protect guests and staff. Many were extremely detailed, breaking down the use of personal protective equipment, social distancing rules and heightened sanitation measures.

The state’s six largest casino companies — and others — have posted these plans online.

Experts say the transparency is just another way companies can reassure guests and employees that their facilities are safe enough to return to. But, ultimately, only the number of people who end up inside the reopened resorts will show whether that reassurance is enough.

“It’s really important venues are doing everything they can, and that gives us confidence that it makes it safe to play,” said Jonathon Day, an associate professor at Purdue University School of Hospitality.

‘The industry needs to respond’

On Wednesday, the state Gaming Control Board updated its health and safety policies for reopening casinos, amending a notice sent May 1.

Updates included requirements that licensees encourage guests wear face coverings while in public areas on property, and provide temperature screenings for hotel guests upon arrival.

Other requirements include limiting occupancy to 50 percent to each gaming area based on local fire code occupancy rates, rearranging floor plans to allow for proper social distancing, using social distancing signage, limiting the number of players at table games, and keeping nightclubs and dayclubs closed.

These new protocols — and the act of showing customers that companies are taking their health and safety seriously — could help the Las Vegas tourism industry’s recovery, Day said.

“You’ve probably never been to a venue that’s as clean as it is now,” he said. “Sure, there are folks that are — after a couple of really tough months — ready to play. Others need to be helped to get there, need to be encouraged. … There are also many Americans who are still a little concerned, and so the industry needs to respond.”

Frequent Las Vegas traveler George Santino said he has “no doubt” casinos are going above and beyond what they’re mandated to do to keep guests safe.

The Mount Vernon, Washington, resident said he plans to return with his wife soon — he’s thinking September, while his wife is pushing for July. After months of being stuck at home, Santino said he’s anxious to return to Las Vegas and its restaurants, parks and entertainment.

He said he feels confident the properties will be kept clean; at this time, he’s more concerned about the risks he faces on his way to Las Vegas.

“The question isn’t ‘Are we coming back?’ We’re definitely coming back. It’s ‘How will we get there?’ ” he said. “Do I take a plane and be sequestered with a bunch of people on a tube? Do I drive and stay at a hotel?”

Tim Fellman of Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, said he’s looking forward to his mid-July visit with his wife and son.

“If we have to follow the rules out there, we’ll follow the rules,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect them to impact his plans on the trip.

Different atmosphere

Meanwhile, some travelers like Rob Tetlow of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have concerns that the new protocols will impact their Las Vegas experiences.

He said he doesn’t mind the guidelines and understands they’re meant to keep guests safe, but he’s concerned social distancing rules will make him miss out on those only-Vegas moments, like a round of high-fives with strangers after a big win at the blackjack table.

“That’s one of the things that’s great about Vegas, you meet so many people. … The atmosphere in Las Vegas is about people having a great time and enjoying each other’s company,” he said. “It’s going to take away from being around people.”

Providing both a safe environment and an atmosphere that’s similar to a pre-pandemic Las Vegas is a challenge, said Ron Hill, a marketing professor at American University Kogod School of Business.

While the city often advertises itself as an escape from reality, visitors will be hard-pressed to forget about the pandemic when they see masks on staff and social distancing signage spread throughout properties.

“Vegas needs to find a way (reopen) where it doesn’t take away from the experience, but at the same time, is protecting people,” he said. “Vegas is an escape. … Turning off every other machine, I’m not sure it’ll be the feel people are looking for.”

Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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