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Wynn Resorts disclosed positive worker numbers. Will others do same?

Updated August 9, 2020 - 7:56 pm

Wynn Resorts is the first major Strip gaming company to publicly disclose how many of its employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Health experts say the figure alone, about 300, doesn’t say much.

“It’s interesting that they shared that, but it really doesn’t tell me anything other than the fact that Wynn is doing some testing and obviously following up on the results,” said Brian Labus, a UNLV epidemiologist and member of the governor’s medical advisory team.

But industry watchers and marketing professionals say the decision to disclose that information was good marketing and could influence other gaming companies to follow suit.

“This pulls the cover off for everyone else,” said former Wynn executive Nehme Abouzeid, now the president of consulting firm LaunchVegas. “Customers and employees will ask other operators, ‘How come you’re not as forthcoming as Wynn?’”

Several other gaming companies have shared information on testing but have not disclosed how many of those tests came back positive.

Passing the test

Casinos and gaming establishments closed their doors in March when Gov. Steve Sisolak shut down Nevada businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hotel-casinos were allowed to reopen starting June 4 with social distancing and health protocols in place.

Some gaming companies, like Station Casinos and Las Vegas Sands Corp., tested all employees before they returned to work on June 4 and now regularly test some or all of their employees. Others, like MGM Resorts International, are requiring tests only for staff who exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus or have been in contact with someone who has it.

Hotel-casinos are not required to disclose the number of employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, but they must contact the Southern Nevada Health District when they discover a positive case among staff. The district is not obligated to confirm or share further information about positive cases.

But some resort workers have asked for more transparency in how their employers disclose positive tests. Multiple employees at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas told the Review-Journal in June that the company wasn’t telling them how many of their co-workers had the coronavirus.

It’s with this background that Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox told shareholders Tuesday that the company has had “roughly 300” employees test positive for the coronavirus out of 16,750 tests, about a 2 percent positivity rate.

Maddox told shareholders the company tested all of its employees before they returned to work, developed “an algorithm where we surveil our staff” and randomly tests 500-600 employees every couple of weeks. Maddox said he was proud of the company’s testing efforts, and its 10 in-house contact tracers have determined “99 (percent) of those 300 people were exposed outside of Wynn.”

It isn’t clear how that algorithm identifies who to test or where those positive employees work. In response to questions seeking further clarity, Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver said the company doesn’t discuss results out of respect for employee confidentiality.

Gauntlet thrown?

How many other gaming companies follow suit remains to be seen.

Each company will do things their own way, but Wynn’s decision sets the standard, said Joshua Swissman, founding partner of another hospitality consulting firm, The Strategy Organization.

In an interview after a Thursday earnings call, Golden Entertainment President Charles Protell said the company tested all employees returning to work at its Nevada casinos and taverns. He said under 2 percent of nearly 6,000 tests came back positive.

Sands and Station Casinos have shared how many tests they’ve administered but haven’t said how many tests came back positive: A Sands spokesman said The Venetian has given nearly 30,000 tests over three months, and Station Casinos CEO Frank Fertitta said the company had administered more than 12,000 tests as of a Tuesday earnings call.

Representatives for Caesars Entertainment Inc., Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Resorts International didn’t return a request for comment asking if they would release their own positive case numbers.

It’s no surprise to Abouzeid that Wynn Resorts was the first to share its testing results.

In April, Wynn published a reopening health and safety plan with ideas for reopening the state.

Abouzeid said he was impressed with the company’s transparency about its plans and now its positive cases, which could “win the hearts and minds” of employees, guests, vendors and the public.

Disclosing the positive cases indicates Wynn Resorts is playing the long game on public perception and employee culture, rather than worrying about the possibility of short-term drops in visitation, Swissman said.

‘Question mark’

Though Wynn Resorts’ disclosure is the most detailed among Strip gaming companies, the information lacks context.

Without knowing how many of those positive employees interact with customers or work in Las Vegas, it’s hard to draw many conclusions about what those positive tests mean for Wynn’s local properties and the local gaming industry, UNLV hospitality professor Amanda Belarmino said.

She said Wynn is aiming for transparency by sharing its positive case numbers and total tests. However, she said, there are employee privacy concerns that factor into releasing additional context.

“They’re trying to balance the needs of the employees with the needs of the guests, but I think it does raise a lot more questions,” Belarmino said.

What Wynn’s positive cases proclamation does suggest is that employees likely aren’t catching the virus at work and the company could be identifying asymptomatic employees before they unknowingly spread the virus, the professor said.

“I think it’s a very good sign in terms of the industry itself as a whole and Wynn properties, in particular, that they’re doing the right thing in terms of preventing the spread of the virus,” Belarmino said.

Labus, the epidemiologist on Sisolak’s advisory team, said Wynn’s announcement doesn’t mean much without context on how, who and why the company is testing.

The fact employees tested positive isn’t surprising, as hospitality and gaming is the state’s largest employer, he said.

But, he adds, “just because it’s a Wynn employee that tested positive doesn’t mean it had anything to do with Wynn or put any other co-workers or guests at risk,” Labus said.

Labus said he believes Wynn is accurately portraying its own data, though he noted it’s also fair to wonder whether an employee would be as forthcoming sharing with their employer’s contact tracer intimate details of their lives outside of work.

“I think that’s the thing that’s a question mark. All we have is an answer at the very end of it, how they got to that number, we don’t know, so it’s hard to say what it really means.”

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

Contact Mike Shoro at mshoro@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290. Follow @mike_shoro on Twitter.

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