Maybe it’s not time for fireworks over the Strip just yet. But casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere in Nevada took a step toward normal this week with the introduction of a plan that will allow casino floors to return to 50 percent occupancy — just in time for March Madness, one of the biggest sports betting events of the year.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday announced a phased rollback of many of the capacity limits the state had implemented to try to curb the coronavirus pandemic. With daily COVID-19 case counts that had once eclipsed 2,700 now averaging less than 700, Sisolak allowed gaming floor capacity to increase gradually from 25 to 50 percent by mid-March, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The move was part of a broader statewide plan that also increased capacity limits on several other types of businesses, based on their risk level. The current 25 percent capacity limit on casino floors will increase to 35 percent on Monday, then to 50 percent on March 15 — three days before the start of the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
”While we are hopeful that trends will continue to decrease, we must remain flexible,” Sisolak said in a press briefing. “As we have done all along, we will continue to monitor data trends throughout this timeline, and … evaluate next steps should a significant increase begin to occur.”
The gambling, convention and tourism industries that comprise the lifeblood of Las Vegas were hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. Sisolak ordered casino operations statewide to close on March 17 – around the same time that rising COVID-19 cases shut down the entire casino industry in America. Gaming ventures in the Silver State were allowed to reopen June 4, but only after adhering to a raft of safety measures that included use of face coverings, occupancy limits and social distancing guidelines.
The state’s reopening plan gives Las Vegas casinos hope for a robust NCAA Tournament, which typically draws thousands of sports bettors to the city; in 2019 the tourney saw nearly half a billion dollars wagered, according to the Review-Journal. In addition to Nevada’s lower virus case counts, the state has also administered over 394,000 vaccine doses, or 73 percent of its allotment thus far, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
”Some people want everything opened up, some people want everything closed down. Some people want no capacity limits, some people want strict capacity limits,” Sisolak said. “Every decision I’ve had to make over the past year has been fraught with those two sides. It’s a difficult tightrope balancing act to keep our people as safe as we can … yet at the same time get our economy moving. We have unemployment that’s still too high.”
There is another potential spring boost for Las Vegas. Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, built on the property that once housed the Hard Rock Hotel, plans to open March 25, the Las Vegas Sun reported. The hotel’s intended opening date had twice been pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the city’s tourism market, the Sun reported.
Virgin acquired the former Hard Rock site in February 2020 and commenced a $200 million makeover. The new property will have three towers with more than 1,500 rooms, a 5-acre pool and a 60,000-square-foot casino to be operated by Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment of Connecticut.
“It has been a journey, but to finally reach this milestone and confidently announce our opening date would not be possible without our incredible partners and construction team,” said Richard Bosworth, president of the hotel’s parent company. “We are not only celebrating the fact that we finally get to welcome back guests to the most exciting resort to open in Las Vegas in years, but we also get to bring our team members back to work.”