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Las Vegas businesses face more hurdles due to new COVID limits

Nevada businesses will not be forced into lockdown again under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s newest restrictions, but casinos and others will have to slash the number of customers allowed inside their doors in an already badly battered economy.

The governor on Sunday announced a three-week statewide “pause” that requires gambling establishments, restaurants, bars, gyms and others to operate at a maximum 25 percent capacity, down from a previously mandated 50 percent. Retail stores will not have to shrink their capacity limit, though some will have new mitigation requirements, while barbershops, nail salons, spas and others are exempt from the new restrictions.

The tightened rules, which take effect Tuesday, are intended to slow the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak.

“Our case-rate growth is at a wildfire level,” Sisolak said.

Las Vegas’ tourism-dependent economy has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept people home and away from crowds for fear of getting infected. Businesses are likely poised to feel more pain if they have to further limit the number of customers inside at any given time.

MGM Resorts International, a dominant casino operator on the Strip, is immediately working to adjust its operations to comply with the new restrictions, spokesman Brian Ahern said in an emailed statement.

He added that the new rules “will clearly have a major impact” on entertainment, and that the company is working with its partners to determine a path forward. MGM had brought back seven shows earlier this month, including Carrot Top at Luxor Theater and Jabbawockeez at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

A spokesperson for Caesars Entertainment Inc. said the company will comply with Sisolak’s orders. Its restaurants and bars will remain open and continue to offer to-go options, and guests at most of its Nevada resorts will have the option to order pick up or delivery to their hotel rooms.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. spokesman Michael Weaver said the company will also implement the governor’s directive, calling it “a prudent decision that will protect public health.”

Spokespeople for casino operators Boyd Gaming Corp., Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Red Rock Resorts Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

Culinary Union spokesperson Bethany Khan declined comment. Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, affiliates of Unite Here, represent roughly 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno.

‘Chances of survival’

Nevada Association of Employers chief executive Thoran Towler said that although he understands “we are at a critical juncture in this battle against COVID-19, I’m extremely concerned for Nevada’s small businesses.”

Towler said he regularly hears from companies barely surviving, especially independent bars and restaurants that struggle to stay open at 50 percent capacity.

“Now with a reduction to 25 percent capacity, I am scared to find out how many of these establishments can even remain in operation,” he said. “I hope this ‘pause’ can end soon, and I really hope that businesses can survive it.”

As it stands, Nevada’s unemployment rate last month, 12 percent, was second highest in the nation, behind fellow tourism destination Hawaii, at 14.3 percent, federal data shows.

Gail Schomisch, co-owner of All Fired Up, a paint-your-own pottery studio, said the new restrictions will directly impact her business operations.

“My customers tend to sit for a couple hours at a time because they’re creating art and pottery,” she said. “This is not something you can come in, grab a quick bite, like a Starbucks muffin and a coffee to go, and you’re out of there. I would have to be open, at such ridiculous hours with such ridiculous labor, to only allow five people at a time to come in. My chances of survival have just been axed.”

Brian Gordon, a principal with Las Vegas consulting firm Applied Analysis, said many businesses in Southern Nevada “will continue to transition their business models” amid all the changes, though the latest measures could spark “negative economic consequences,” especially for businesses that are “already operating on thin margins.”

Still, a statewide “pause,” as opposed to forced closures, may let some businesses “tread water until they can reach the other side of this situation,” Gordon said.

Josh Swissman, a founding partner of The Strategy Organization, a Las Vegas-based hospitality consulting firm, figured most business owners would prefer to stay open if given the choice to operate at 25 percent or lock their doors.

“Sometimes making money is just losing less than if you were completely shut down,” he said.

Barbara Finkel, owner of Las Vegas Antique Center, said she’s happy to be able to continue welcoming visitors to her shop. But she is still concerned about whether her business will make it through the holiday season, as Nevadans are being urged to stay home amid the still-raging pandemic.

“I’m hoping to stay afloat,” Finkel said.

‘Major impact’

Sisolak said that while he’s prioritizing Nevadans’ health and safety, he’s also “balancing the significant ramifications that further restrictions will have on our suffering economy.”

“No state struggles with this more than Nevada due to the lack of diversity in our economy,” Sisolak said.

Virginia Valentine, president and CEO of the Nevada Resort Association, said that Sisolak “has given this difficult decision careful and thoughtful consideration,” and that he’s trying “to balance the best interests of public health with the ongoing economic impacts.”

“Like every state in the nation, Nevada faces a grim future if the virus’ spread is not contained and reversed quickly,” Valentine said. “As the resort industry does its part to adhere to this directive, we strongly urge the public to join us by following recommended practices and behaviors. With the public’s help, we are optimistic we can move through this situation swiftly and return to the business of bringing people back to work safely and moving our economy forward.”

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

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writers Subrina Hudson, Jonathan Ng, Bailey Schulz, Mike Shoro and Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.

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