Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has allowed casinos to operate at 25% capacity as he extended pandemic-led restrictions until January 15. The governor’s announcement comes amid increased COVID-19 hospitalizations that led him to seek a balance to protect the deteriorating public health with the fallouts that further shutdowns would have on the state economy.
The Democratic governor announced the extension of restrictions during a virtual press conference on Sunday. While citing the country’s top physician, Dr Anthony Fauci, Sisolak said, “As you all know, Fauci predicted that Thanksgiving would cause ‘a surge on top of a surge’… We are just now starting to see the effects of the holiday in our data.”
Sisolak also acknowledged that limiting capacity for businesses, including casinos, was devastating for residents, but added the measures were required to “bridge” the Silver State to the time at which a vaccine can be widely available. Sisolak said that he will continue to monitor and evaluate the current situation frequently, adding that Nevada will remain under the current restrictions for now, with the target of getting through the next month.
The governor said he is not much concerned about the stock prices of gaming companies. Instead, he is worried about the casino dealers, performers, housekeepers, valet drivers, and cooks who have been bearing the brunt of the pandemic on their jobs. During the initial few months of COVID-19, the Silver State lost 250,000 jobs, the largest number of layoffs by a state in recent decades.
No Additional Restrictions Were Announced
Sisolak did not announce any additional restrictions. Sunday’s announcement just saw an extension of the governor’s order that was implemented on November 22, reducing casino capacity from 50% to 25%. Other measures include reservations at all restaurants and bars serving food for in-person dining. Art galleries, arcades, racetracks, aquariums, bowling alleys, libraries, museums, mini-golf, and zoos are also all reduced to 25% capacity.
The 67-year-old explained why casinos remain open while some other businesses are restricted. He said when he thinks of the gambling industry, he loses sleep at night because we were under a stay-at-home order in the spring and lost a quarter of a million jobs in three months in Nevada, “and that’s largely because of casinos being closed for 78 days straight.”
Sisolak further defended the gambling industry as it is the foundation of the state economy. He said the authorities are fighting to protect thousands of residents who work at gambling properties, and that the state could incur as much as $52 million in monthly gaming tax revenue losses if casinos are closed. This does not include room tax or live entertainment tax.
How Have We Reached Here?
Since November 24, the Silver State has enforced increased restrictions to control the spread of the virus that has broken records in daily cases and deaths. The recent surge put more Nevadans per capita in the hospitals for the virus than any other US state. The latest announcement fulfills the governor’s promise that sought a re-evaluation after three weeks. Over the span of the new restrictions, the state has recorded around 53,000 new cases in addition to 865 deaths, which means 2,500 cases and 41 deaths per day.
The Silver State’s gaming sector has been struggling since reopening in June. By October, visitor numbers at Las Vegas’s airport were down 56.6% year-on-year. Additionally, gaming revenues on the celebrated Las Vegas Strip decreased by 43.6% through October due to limited capacities and a reduced number of visitors. Since reopening of the industry, no conventions took place in the Sin City. As a result of this, many casino properties, such as The Mirage, the Park MGM, Encore, and Mandalay Bay are closing their operations during the week.
The governor expressed hope to get the approved COVID-19 vaccine’s first shipment to arrive in the Silver State this week. This should see the restrictions eased and the gaming industry finally able to move forward and regain its pre-pandemic momentum. But for now, we wait.