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July 13, 2020

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We’re back! Las Vegas casinos shuttered by virus reopen

Caesars Palace Re-Opening During Phase 2

Christopher DeVargas

John Charles of Texas arrived in Las Vegas on an early morning flight in order to be among the first guests at Caesars Palace as the casino reopened its doors to the public during phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, June 4, 2020.

Updated Thursday, June 4, 2020 | 9 p.m.

Bellagio Reopens

People watch a fountain show during the reopening of the Bellagio, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Casinos in Nevada were allowed to reopen on Thursday for the first time after temporary closures as a precaution against the coronavirus. Launch slideshow »

Caesars Palace Re-Opening During Phase 2

John Charles of Texas arrived in Las Vegas on an early morning flight in order to be among the first guests at Caesars Palace as the casino reopened its doors to the public during phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, June 4, 2020. Launch slideshow »

Red Rock Resort and Casino Re-Opens for Phase 2

Scott Nelson, Vice President and GM of Red Rock Resort and Casino, opens the doors to the public at the stroke of midnight, Thursday June 4, 2020. The resort and casino is one of many properties in Las Vegas that are reopening for business during phase 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nevada. Launch slideshow »

Employees at the Bellagio applauded today as the first guests returned to the resort after the coronavirus crisis shut down the Las Vegas Strip for more than two months.

“That was quite exciting,” said Cherie McQuady, a worker at the swanky casino’s Petrossian Bar. “It was like we were opening the hotel brand new all over again.”

For the first time since mid-March, slot machines are jingling, cards are in the air, dice are rolling and drinks are flowing. In short, Vegas is back, baby.

An enduring symbol of Las Vegas since October 1998, the Fountains of Bellagio reactivated at 9:30 a.m. today. The choreographed attraction came alive to the sounds of “Simple Gifts,” a tribute to frontline workers and first responders, followed by the celebratory “Viva Las Vegas.”

One sure sign the city is getting back on its feet: Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton was on hand to greet visitors at Caesars Palace.

“We so missed you, ladies and gentlemen,” Newton said. “Welcome back.”

Caesars Palace and the Bellagio were among dozens of casinos that reopened today in Las Vegas after a state-ordered closure of nonessential businesses to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s a tremendous amount on the line, not only for casinos, but for the community and the state,” said Alan Feldman, a longtime casino executive who is now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at UNLV. “This is an extremely important moment.”

In reopening, property owners, state regulators and Gov. Steve Sisolak had to balance health concerns against the loss of billions of dollars a month in gambling revenue and unemployment that topped 28% in April.

They're betting that safety measures — disinfected dice; hand sanitizer and face masks; limited numbers of players at tables; temperature checks at entrances to some resorts; touchless cellphone check-ins — will lure tourists back.

“I’m optimistic that customers will see that gaming properties invested time and effort to welcome them back to a safe and entertaining environment,” state Gaming Control Board chief Sandra Douglass Morgan said Wednesday.

MGM Resorts International acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said the Bellagio and the company’s other Strip resorts opening today — the MGM Grand and New York-New York — expect strong drive-in traffic from Southern California for the next two weekends. Hotel occupancy was about 30% to 35%, he said.

Six other MGM properties on the Strip remain closed, although the Excalibur is set to resume operations on June 11.

“We have 64,000 colleagues, give or take, currently on furlough and the opportunity to bring them back first and foremost is essential to our company. And we are doing it, slowly and patiently,” Hornbuckle said.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio said he was ready to get back to business as has been usual for more than five decades on the Las Vegas Strip.

“Caesars Palace opened its doors in August 1966 and never closed its doors for 54 years until a couple of months ago,” Rodio said. “I can’t tell you how excited we are to start the next 54 years of incredible experiences, moments and memories for our thousands and thousands of customers.”

Steve and Maria Oestreich of Florida were among the first guests when Caesars Palace opened its doors at 10 a.m. today.

The couple were in Las Vegas in March when the casinos abruptly closed and returned to finish their vacation and play some craps, they said.

“It’s quiet now, which isn’t the norm,” Maria Oestreich said. “We were downtown last night and there were a lot of people around. There’s more security, too.”

On the north end of the Strip, the casino floor at Wynn Las Vegas was relatively quiet, but that wasn’t stopping Jay and Gina Ringle of Mesquite from having a good time.

Both wore Vegas Golden Knights face masks. While she talked, Gina Ringle casually tipped a cocktail waitress by placing a few dollars into a container on her tray to limit hand-to-hand contact.

“I’m a little more worried about my health because I’m a diabetic,” Gina Ringle said. “But we knew that Wynn was going to do everything it needed to do to keep people safe here. They’re going above and beyond.”

Wynn Resorts was one of the first casino companies to announce temperature checks for guests and has taken safety measures such as installing plastic barriers at table games.

Away from the Strip, today’s reopening couldn’t have gone much better for Beth Toy.

The Las Vegas resident was at her favorite casino — Red Rock Resort — for less than an hour when she hit four aces on a video poker machine, winning $4,040.

“This is too cool. I love Vegas,” Toy said. “This is my stress reliever. I wouldn’t have missed this.”

Toy was among hundreds of people who lined up at Red Rock’s doors for today’s 12:01 a.m. reopening.

The table games were mostly full early today, though under state safety guidelines, blackjack tables that normally seat six people are capped at three players. Also, every other slot machine was disabled to meet social distancing requirements.

Casino employees fanned out throughout the casino, wiping down and disinfecting slot machines, chairs and railings.

Matt Kuszewski, who was accompanied by his service dog, Sadie Mae, was up $50 on a Buffalo Gold slot machine he was playing a little before 1 a.m.

“It’s nice to get out and see people,” Kuszewski said. “You miss the socializing.”

Red Rock Resort Vice President and General Manager Scott Nelson said preparing the complex for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t easy.

“I haven’t been more proud of my team in my 35 years in the industry,” he said. “They’ve truly stepped up. They’re anxious to get back to taking care of our guests. I think we’re going to see, as an industry, a lot of people coming out. We’re ready to get back to work.”

In downtown Las Vegas, the Fremont Street Experience also came back to life as casinos flanking the covered promenade welcomed people back.

Tahira Alag of Chicago said she never visited Las Vegas before the pandemic and was wondering what to expect. “I don’t even know what it looks like full-tilt,” she said.

At the downtown D Las Vegas, guests lined up for temperature scans with a heat-sensing camera before being let inside, where dancers wearing masks and full plastic face shields twirled on tables.

“This is a tuxedo day. We’re kicking off Las Vegas. People are excited and curious,” casino owner Derek Stevens said several hours before the gaming floor opened.

Charlies and Ted Linzie-Brown of Las Vegas said they planned to play the slot machines at The D before driving down to the Strip later in the morning.

Ted Linzie-Brown said the couple were not very concerned about the coronavirus and thought the casinos had “done their part” to help limit its spread.

Steve Arcana, chief operating officer for Golden Entertainment, which operates the Strat, said he hoped protests in recent days along the Strip wouldn’t be a concern for guests and employees.

People in Las Vegas and nationwide have taken to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck during an arrest last week.

The protests turned violent in Las Vegas on Monday night when a Metro Police officer was shot and critically wounded on the north Strip and police killed an armed man in downtown Las Vegas.

“People are a little fearful of that, especially people on the Strip, including our employees,” Arcana said. “People absolutely have the right to protest, and change is needed, but we have to keep our team members, our guests and our assets safe.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.