Governor Sisolak Eases COVID-19 Restrictions on Nevada Casinos, Capacity to Go Up to 50%

  • Casinos can increase capacity from 25% to 35% on Monday, up to 50% starting March 15
  • Sisolak cited improving COVID-19 case numbers, unemployment rates as reasons for the decision
  • Sin City's Virgin Hotels Las Vegas announced that it will be opening on March 25
  • Casinos and poker rooms in Nevada have been struggling due to the ongoing pandemic
  • Industry stakeholders are optimistic about an imminent recovery for Vegas's gambling business
empty gaming floor inside a casino
Restrictions on Nevada casinos will be easing starting Monday as part of a new plan announced by Governor Steve Sisolak. [Image:]

Boosting max capacities

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has announced a plan to gradually ease certain restrictions on casinos in the state. With COVID-19 case numbers improving in Nevada, the plan is to build up gaming floor capacity to 50% from the current 25% limit.

Sisolak tweeted information about the plan to relax measures on Thursday:

Casino floors and poker rooms are set to initially go to 35% capacity starting February 15. A further rise to 50% maximum capacity is due to come into effect on March 15. Casino gaming floors have been dealing with a 25% capacity cap since November 2020.

Public gatherings will increase to 35% capacity or 100 people – whichever is less – starting Monday, with this rising to 50% capacity or 250 people on March 15. Maximum capacity for indoor dining will also go up to 35% on Monday, with no need for people to make reservations in advance. The cap of four people per table will also increase to six.

Sisolak’s move follows the news last week of a proposal by Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick to raise occupancy at Nevada casinos and other entertainment facilities. Kirkpatrick was among those leading the charge to increase the state’s casino capacity back to 50% to decrease the current strain on businesses.

Why relax measures now?

Speaking about the reasoning behind easing restrictions, Gov. Sisolak referenced improving COVID-19 case numbers.

The positivity rate and the average number of new cases per day over a 14-day period have been decreasing. Vaccine programs are also rolling out, with 390,000 doses administered to date in the state.

Sisolak also said that current unemployment figures are “too high”, and that certain businesses are only “hanging on by a thread.” In December last year, the unemployment rate was 9.2% in Nevada – higher than the 6.7% national average. The governor is hoping that business travel will return alongside the relaunching of convention business in the state.

certain businesses are only “hanging on by a thread”

Starting May 1, the plan is for local authorities to take charge of managing COVID-19 restrictions in their communities. They will collaborate with the Nevada Gaming Commission and the Nevada Gaming Control Board when deciding on guidelines for casinos.

Some casino operators and industry commentators welcomed the news that properties can gradually increase gaming floor capacity in the coming weeks. A statement from MGM Resorts International said it “couldn’t be more excited” with the latest decision to ease restrictions in Nevada.

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas sets new opening date

In some other positive news for the Nevada casino sector, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas announced on Thursday that it will be opening its doors on March 25. The Vegas property, formerly the Hard Rock Las Vegas, will launch under the new brand and following a remodel. It was originally slated to open last fall, then on January 15, but pandemic-related concerns led to numerous delays.

Under Governor Sisolak’s current plan, Virgin Hotels Las Vegas will be able to operate at 50% capacity when it opens. The property has about 1,500 hotel rooms, 12 restaurants, and a 60,000-square-foot gaming floor. The casino will be under the operation of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, while Betfred USA Sports will be in charge of the sports betting operations.

A tough time for Nevada’s gambling industry

While green shoots are starting to appear, casinos in Nevada have been struggling to date as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaming properties had to fully close in mid-March 2020 until they could reopen at 50% capacity on June 4. Extensive health and safety rules have been in place since, leading to business disruption on gaming floors.

Some casinos are only accepting hotel reservations for the weekends as business and convention travel is significantly down. Air travel fell by 29 million passengers last year at Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport.

Gaming revenue dropped 34.6% year-on-year for Nevada casinos in 2020, the worst year for more than two decades. Currently, only 20 poker rooms are open in Las Vegas, down from 31 rooms pre-pandemic. As a result of the capacity restrictions and the fewer open poker rooms, gamblers have been facing long waiting lists to get into cash games in certain rooms. Some casinos also remain closed in the state.

Light at the end of the tunnel

With the pandemic situation seemingly improving and the rollout of vaccines, many casino sector stakeholders are optimistic about the future of Nevada gaming. MGM Resorts International is confident, but it noted that a full recovery might take until 2022.

In a call with investors, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle said: “We believe the demand for travel and visitation in Las Vegas could be robust later in the year.” As a result of easing restrictions and more consumer demand in the future, MGM will be able to rehire laid-off staff.

People always underestimate Vegas’s ability to reinvent itself and come roaring back.”

In an exclusive VegasSlotsOnline News interview, the head of Betfred Sports USA and Canada development, Stephen A. Crystal, was also confident about a swift recovery in Las Vegas. He described the mood in the city as being “hugely optimistic”, stating: “People always underestimate Vegas’s ability to reinvent itself and come roaring back.”

The Las Vegas-based executive also noted that the pandemic forced casinos into adopting new forms of technology, such as cashless gambling and advancements in sports betting offerings.

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