Nevada Slowing Flow of COVID-19 Case Information, Feds Not Lending Casinos a Financial Hand

  • Nevada health officials are no longer providing COVID spread reports
  • Proponents of the reports say they are needed to focus mitigation efforts
  • National election politics are getting in the way of possible financial aid to casinos
  • COVID-19 cases are rising in Nevada once again
View of Paris and Planet Hollywood casinos on the Las Vegas Strip
Nevada casinos are in need of both stimulus money and better COVID-19 information, but the federal government and state health authorities are providing little help. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Government questions usefulness of information

The United States is approximately seven months into the pandemic and the multi-pronged battle is looking increasingly difficult to win for Nevada casinos. On the health front, state health officials have announced that they will no longer put together COVID-19 spread reports. On the economic side, it does not appear that financial relief is coming from the federal government any time soon, if at all.

limited if any value while we are experiencing community spread of the virus”

“An analysis of potential exposure sites of case contacts would provide limited if any value while we are experiencing community spread of the virus,” Southern Nevada Health District spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The agency’s health officer, Kevin Dick, said that there is some question as to whether or not the information is “useful” to the general public.

In their argument as to the data’s usefulness, they say that all the information does is show that the state’s hotspots are at its largest business and places with high foot traffic, implying that this would be obvious and easy to guess.

Others want information for decision-making

Proponents of COVID-19 spread reports say that the government needs to be more transparent, rather than shutting itself off to the public, and that now is no time to keep secrets. Experts say that the more information the public has as to where virus cases are concentrated, the more effective contact tracing can be. And in the case of casinos – Las Vegas properties, in particular – Nevada’s regulators will be able to focus their inspection efforts in the right places.

In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, the Strip casinos and hotels are the largest sources of possible infections. Industry officials say that an increase in testing has resulted in higher case numbers.

The casino industry and state officials may naturally be worried that if more information is out there, the greater the chances that the data starts to look bad enough that further shutdowns may be in order. Nevada Press Association executive director Richard Karpel says that “It’s not all about mandates, directives and closures,” but rather giving the public the information it needs to make educated decisions about health and safety.

In September, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) told the Review-Journal that, though it has issued complaints against casinos for not abiding by health guidelines, it “does not receive or track COVID information at casinos.”

Politics blocking federal aid

Economically, it appears that the public may be on its own for quite a while, too. Though the $2.2tn CARES Act helped in providing a one-time payment to citizens, increasing unemployment benefits through July, providing tax breaks for large casino companies, and offering funds to small casinos to help cover payroll, it was passed late March. Any benefits have run dry by now.

Americans have been calling for a second round of stimulus, but in the midst of a Presidential election, it has been held up by political gridlock.

The goal is to hang on right now.”

Knowing nothing is immediately in the offing, the American Gaming Association’s Chris Cylke told the Las Vegas Sun, “The goal is to hang on right now. As soon as we can turn the corner, we need to make sure there’s some fuel to add to the fire to make the recovery happens as quickly as possible.”

U.S. Travel Association president Roger Dow said that half of country’s 1.3 million “travel-supported” jobs will likely be gone by December if a new stimulus bill does not manifest itself.

Virus cases on the rise again

Nevada casinos shut down in mid-March to help slow the spread of the virus. This was a necessary yet financially devastating move for the state’s gaming industry, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work. After casinos were permitted to reopen on June 4 with capacity restrictions, COVID-19 cases exploded.

cases are on the upswing again after an early September dip

Prior to the reopenings, new daily case counts only eclipsed 200 a handful of times. Those levels were hit – at a minimum – every day for three months starting June 9, peaking at 1,447 in mid-July. Cases are on the upswing again after an early September dip, hitting over 800 on Saturday.

And though many gaming workers have returned to their jobs, many more are still sitting at home, as capacity limits are still in place and many casino services are still closed.

According to the NGCB, August gaming revenue was still down 22% compared to the same month last year. Las Vegas saw fewer than half the visitors this August compared to last. Hotel occupancy was halved, as well.