Reopen the Las Vegas strip?

It’s hard enough to figure out how to reopen a place as densely populated as New York City, with its massive public transit systems and crowded streets. But how about Las Vegas? Granted, Sin City’s full-time population is less than one-tenth that of the Big Apple at a bit under 650,000. But when it’s up and running, Vegas hosts more than 100,000 tourists per day for a total of nearly 40 million per year, all packed into 135 square miles. Talk about a social distancing nightmare.

The city has fallen silent since the lockdown began, but some leaders in that community are growing impatient. The CEO of Wynn Resorts is calling for the famous Las Vegas strip to be reopened in the next couple of weeks. But is that even something we could consider at this point? (Bloomberg)

Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Matt Maddox is calling for parts of the Nevada economy to start reopening in early May, followed by the Las Vegas Strip in the middle or later part of the month.

“I understand that if we incrementally reopen we might have to pull back if a spike in cases occurs that jeopardizes our health care system capacity,” he said in an opinion piece published by the Nevada Independent. “However, the only way to cross this river is one stone at a time, and we need to put our feet in the water before it is too late.”

The opinion piece was accompanied by a 23-page proposal detailing steps it’s taking to keep its casino, hotel rooms and facilities sanitized and safe, down to details such as giving all guests amenity bags that include hand sanitizer and face masks, as well as a “Covid-19 awareness card.”

You can understand how the management at Wynn Resorts and the rest of the casino moguls would be itching to get the strip back up and running. The casinos are hemorrhaging money as they sit largely empty and silent. And it’s not just the owners and shareholders, either. The casino industry on the strip employs more than 100,000 of the residents of Vegas and they are currently nearly all on the unemployment line. Nearly every other business in the city is also negatively impacted by the lack of visitors coming to the city. So, of course, everyone wants to see the strip reopened.

But how would that work? Maddox is saying that they would want to reopen “incrementally.” But the situation that Las Vegas is in is almost unique, even when compared to New York City. If some of the casinos open and there are thousands of people in there, only a few asymptomatic individuals could infect a huge number of others and we wouldn’t know about it for more than a week. (And during that time, even more people would be infected.) And unlike communities where most all of the people stay in the same area, Vegas would be sending newly infected individuals off to the four corners of the world every day.

I haven’t been to a casino in more than twenty years, but I doubt they’ve changed all that much. Even if you moved all of the slot machines so they were six feet apart and only allowed three people at each blackjack table, you would still have countless people touching all of the buttons and handles on the slot machines, handling the chips and the cards and all the rest of the trappings that go along with casino activities. How many more workers will they need to hire to wipe down every machine after each gambler uses it and lug in crates of new cards when they start throwing out the decks after each new person sits down to play?

Could they force every visitor to wear both surgical gloves and masks while on the casino floor? I suppose so, assuming they could find anyplace to buy that many of them. We don’t even have enough masks for our doctors and nurses at this point. People are sewing their own out of t-shirts. Vegas would need tens or hundreds of thousands of them per day. And don’t even get me started on the free buffet lines and the bars.

As I said above, I can completely sympathize with the desire of the people of Las Vegas to get the strip back into operation. The city is basically a ghost town without its tourist attractions. But I honestly don’t see how you can run a casino with the virus still waiting for another hotspot to establish a toehold. And it wouldn’t take much for them to kick off a second wave that’s worse than the first was. Honestly, of all the cities in the United States, Las Vegas and Atlantic City are two of the last ones that should probably come fully back online.

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David Strom 5:30 PM | June 18, 2024