Nevada Governor Signs Bill Giving Casinos COVID-19 Liability Protections

  • The goal is to protect businesses and non-profits from sham COVID-related lawsuits
  • Governor Sisolak believes the Senate Bill 4 will help revive the gaming industry
  • Hotels must implement further measures to protect their employees
  • Hospitals are not included in the legislation
Statue of Liberty at New York New York casino wearing a mask
As long as business and non-profits follow strict health and safety guidelines, Senate Bill 4 gives them protection from “frivolous” COVID-19 related lawsuits. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Shield from “frivolous” lawsuits

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 4 on Tuesday, giving most businesses, including casinos and hotels, protection from “frivolous” COVID-19-related lawsuits. Companies are not immune to all lawsuits stemming from the pandemic, but as long as they follow strict health and safety regulations, SB4 provides them a form of legal protection.

The legislation, which got bipartisan support in Carson City, is aimed at bolstering Nevada’s hospitality industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic and extended casino and resort shutdowns. The bill, supporters say, is needed to protect the casino industry, allowing operators to reopen properties and shuttered services without fear of “bad actors” coming at them with lawsuits.

allows our members to focus on what’s most needed right now: sustained economic and community recovery”

The American Gaming Association (AGA) and its CEO Bill Miller expressed their appreciation of the measure, saying, “This allows our members to focus on what’s most needed right now: sustained economic and community recovery.”

“This bill helps to mitigate the costs of burdensome litigation that will ultimately affect state and local taxes and jobs,” the AGA added.

Hotels must take extra safety steps

One of the key aspects of the bill is the added safety protocols mandated for hotels in Las Vegas and Reno, the state’s two gambling hubs. In exchange for the bolstered legal protection, hotels must implement further cleaning procedures and social distancing and perhaps most importantly, employees get paid time off during quarantine and free COVID-19 testing when returning to work.

“These additional protections send a powerful message to our visitors that they can take advantage of all of the wonderful amenities in our great State, while enjoying from increased health and safety standards to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Sisolak on Tuesday.

Sisolak added that because of the closure of casinos from mid-March until early June (some have yet to reopen) and the subsequent plunge in visitors even since reopening, Nevada is facing a $1.2bn budget shortfall. The state lost nearly all of its gaming win in April and May compared to the same months in 2019; casino revenue was down 45.6% in June.

“It’s about our state’s economic survival. It’s about acknowledging that Nevada relies heavily on a single industry, the hospitality industry,” Sisolak emphasized.

The bill also helped the Culinary Local 226 and MGM Resorts get back in sync with each other. The Culinary union sued MGM in June, claiming that the company was not properly protecting workers from COVID-19. 35 of the union’s members have died from the virus. Culinary Local 226 dropped the lawsuit late last month and now, with the signing of the bill, has come together with MGM to laud the legislation.

Hospitals not happy

The primary critics from within the state argue that the business protections do not go far enough. Most vocal are hospitals and other health services, which are not included in the liability protections.

not extending premises liability protections to them creates situations that need to be addressed

Bill Welch, president and CEO of the Nevada Hospital Association, said: “Hospitals and health care workers have been on the front lines of COVID-19 since March and not extending premises liability protections to them creates situations that need to be addressed to ensure the safety of patients, employees and hospitals themselves.”

Nevada’s two primary “health districts” say that nobody worked with them on the legislation, even though other stakeholders were consulted. The bill requires health districts to regularly inspect hotels, which the organizations argue could easily overburden them.

Schools are also excluded after being in the original version of the bill. While some people are naturally concerned that school districts could now be more vulnerable to lawsuits, the two major teacher’s unions, the Nevada State Education Association and the Clark County Education Association, actually wanted schools to be left out because, according to the Nevada Independent, there is now “more responsibility on school districts to implement policies that protect teachers and students.