Yes, dice will roll, cards will be dealt and slot machines will beckon. But poker rooms? Closed. Tourists returning to Las Vegas will see changes since gambling stopped in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. (May 22)
LAS VEGAS — The Bellagio fountains are dancing again, the gondolas gliding along the faux canals at The Venetian.
Up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, from Wynn Las Vegas at the north end to New York-New York and MGM Grand on the south end, gamblers are sliding bills into slot machines and wagering chips at blackjack and roulette tables.
And it’s waking up slowly, with foot traffic light in casinos and on the Strip by lunch time.
Janet Rodriguez was one of the first gamblers to plop down in front of a slot machine when the swanky Bellagio resort reopened at 10 a.m.
The Wyoming woman was excited to be back to Vegas for the first time in four years. She and her boyfriend passed the time at Denny’s waiting for Bellagio to open.
She couldn’t believe how quiet things were, and not just because her boyfriend or another gambler couldn’t sit next to her given new social distancing rules that generally keep every other slot machine empty.
“It’s just the awkwardness,’’ she said. “This was like a nonstop, 24-hour, go city. … It would have been nice if everything was fully opened.’’
MGM Resorts Acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle notes that the chain is deliberately starting slowly in Las Vegas, only opening Bellagio, New York-New York and MGM Grand. And even then, it’s only filling 30 to 35% of its rooms by design initially as it puts new safety measures in places.
Hornbuckle said demand for trips to Vegas is “pent-up and strong’’ but that the chain wants to reintroduce Vegas to visitors in a safe way.
He said he will consider reopening week a success if visitors “go home and say, ‘While it was different, it was safe, it was fun, and it’s still the Vegas I know.”
“And then spreading that word so ultimately the business will grow over time.’’
A Vegas birthday tradition, finally here
Hannah Simpkins flew to Las Vegas from Florida for the reopening with her mom, sister, aunt, cousin and other relatives and friends.
She turned 21 in May, and celebrating in Las Vegas is a family tradition.
“They’ve raised us to look forward to this trip,’’ she said. “The 21st birthday is when you get to join the ladies in Vegas.’’
The group of eight was supposed to be in Las Vegas last week but had to delay it a week until casinos reopened. They flew in Wednesday and spent the first night shopping. They hit downtown casinos early Thursday before heading to New York-New York Hotel & Casino for gambling and pool time.
Temperature checks, masked gondoliers
Nevada gaming authorities released a set of rules last week before Las Vegas Strip properties reopened.
Social distancing was an important theme, and strip-goers could spot social distancing reminders everywhere.
All guests must have temperatures taken on arrival, and properties must have medical crews on site.
At New York-New York, an EMT was checking temperatures as guests arrived, and there was only a short line.
Most employees at hotels, casinos and attractions are masked, including the Venetian’s gondoliers, who were waiting for riders to arrive on the slow opening day.
Even Whitney Phoenix, the longtime piano player at Petrossian caviar bar in the lobby of Bellagio was also masked in black to match his black and gold jacket.
Taxis were hard to come by, with drivers not yet staging outside major casino resorts for the next pick-up since so few know what demand will look like this week, but free parking has returned to the Strip with the reopening.
Bellagio fountains are back in action
At 9: 30 a.m. the famous Bellagio fountains were about to start their first show since March 17.
Just a handful of tourists gathered on the normally packed sidewalk. Most didn’t now what time the fountains were reopening.
“This is what makes Vegas, Vegas,” Colleen Vosicky, a high school teacher from Las Vegas, said. She drove to the Strip for the reopening of the fountains and the free Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens because they are her favorite spots on the Strip. During the second show, set to Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” she screamed “That was awesome!”
Bellagio, a crown jewel on the Strip, opened at 10 a.m.
And Bellagio bellman Greg Barlow went back to work at 7 a.m. for the first time since March. “My couch is going to miss me,” he said.
In downtown Las Vegas, hotel-casinos opened a day before Strip hotels. Casinos were packed after they were allowed to open at 12: 01 a.m. Thursday. But the Fremont Street Experience — a pedestrian mall with a giant overhead video canopy, tourist shops, outdoor bars and a zip line, which opened Wednesday morning — was deserted through sunset.
The shutdown of casinos, hotels and attractions, which began mid-March, has been devastating to the state’s visitor-dependent economy. Las Vegas counted just 106,900 visitors in April, down 97% percent. In January and February, before coronavirus crushed travel demand, Las Vegas welcomed more than 3 million visitors.
Elbow bumps, partitions, hand-washing stations
Hornbuckle eagerly welcomed the first guests back to Bellagio as they entered the lobby. Then he elbow bumped fellow executives.
The hotel has doubled down on safety with lots of partitions separating video poker machines, blackjack and poker tables. Tables also had placards saying: “This table has been sanitized.”
Hand-washing stations were wedged next to slot machines on the casino floor, and visitors could also pick up free masks and gloves.
All employees at casino companies such as Wynn Resorts, MGM and Caesars Entertainment are required to wear masks at all times, and all hotels and casinos are required to have masks available for quests, who will be strongly encouraged to wear them.
Down the street at the Wynn, slot machines were set up for social distancing with middle machines out of service to separate gamblers.
By 10: 30 a.m., the crowd at the Wynn was sparse, with just a few card tables occupied.
What other coronavirus measures are in place?
Occupancy limits in gaming areas will be cut in half, and properties must regularly disinfect gaming machines, chairs and other equipment.
All restaurants, bars and shops and the casino floor have plenty of signs reminding guests about distancing.
What do other cleanliness programs look like? Hotels, resorts announce new cleaning programs amid coronavirus. Here’s what they look like.
Contributing: Julia Thompson
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