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Las Vegas casinos reopen, and here’s what we learned

Updated June 5, 2020 - 11:14 am

These free FizzyWaters are costing me a fortune.

That is the mantra of the teetotalist, recreational gambler. The D Las Vegas took me for a few bucks in video poker overnight Wednesday and early Thursday. A few bottles of Perrier helped salve the financial pain.

Masked, carrying a normal temperature and riding a cold streak, I was nonetheless happy to be back in a Las Vegas casino. Some of what I gained in my night of financial loss:

It was refreshing to converse with people in person again: It had been 79 days since my trip to Planet Hollywood Resort as the COVID-19 shutdown was announced. As D Las Vegas co-owner Derek Stevens so simply stated earlier Wednesday, we’re tired of being cooped up. He said that to me, in person.

The reopening of Vegas resorts is a process: It won’t happen overnight, though the D, the Golden Gate and the Golden Nugget all welcomed guests back at 12:01 a.m. The D, especially, was still flourishing as I left about 3 a.m. The night showed an eagerness for guests to return.

Guests waded in at midnight, milling around the Longbar and hitting the tables, the seats cut to three per game. This was a locals crowd, primarily. The drive-in crew will probably arrive this weekend, when Stevens says the place might be sold out.

The night was encouraging for business: It was also the first real-time test of how resorts will operate during a pandemic. A crowd turned out. Officials were smiling at the initial burst of guests. The Golden Gate seemed as busy as it usually is on a weeknight. The Golden Nugget maybe a little less so. But there was healthy activity for hours in all the casinos.

Face covers are effective. They are also odd: Not everyone is wearing face masks, and they are not mandatory. They are uncomfortable and unnatural. Keeping guests in line by “encouraging” them to mask up while they pile chips at a blackjack table won’t be possible. There are free disposable masks but no enforcement.

But the dancers on the table in the D’s party pit grooved effectively while wearing face covers, and Plexiglas shields, along with red-frilled dance outfits. Sexy, yet slightly confrontational.

Phase Two directives are inconsistent: The Golden Nugget casino floor was filled with folks. Rush Lounge, just off the casino floor, remains closed because it is an entertainment venue. But at the D and the Golden Nugget, dancers are allowed to perform in the middle of the gaming pit as ambient entertainment. It makes no sense.

Smokers gonna smoke: It’s a reality. Carrot Top actually asks his audiences how many people drive in from Southern California just so they can smoke. Face masks, and COVID-19, ain’t changing that reality.

Achieving social distancing in a casino is a fallacy: Even in this initial string of openings, it’s clear the hotels I have visited have done their work to keep people apart. They set distance parameters at table games, craps and at the slot banks, where a machine is unoccupied between two that are. The list of protocols are so familiar by now it’s redundant to list them.

But at some point, humans are going to coalesce in a casino. Gaming is a contact sport. You’ll see three people at a blackjack table or roulette wheel, sort of obeying social distancing, only to see just as many friends leaning in from behind. Are we suddenly not hugging at the D’s new BarCanada after the Golden Knights beat the Sharks in OT? We’re being asked not to.

Somehow Las Vegas needs to adjust those instincts for now. I expect we’ll be reminded of this from health are professionals and elected officials. I can’t imagine going through another shutdown. I’d rather face a torrid video-poker machine any night.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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