As Las Vegas starts to reopen, bet on lower room rates and smaller crowds

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After a forced hibernation that has lasted about two months, the sleeping giant that is Las Vegas is beginning to stir.

About 35 properties, including the Sahara and Treasure Island, will begin accepting reservations May 22, hoping to snare guests eager to get away for Memorial Day weekend. Wynn-Encore is hoping to open May 26, the day after the federal holiday, but that date is subject to change, based on when Gov. Steve Sisolak allows hotel-casinos to reopen.

A very different experience will await in a city that saw 42.5 million visitors last year.

“I would say that it’s going to be quite a diminished experience for the first few weeks, if not several weeks going into July,” said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor, a newsletter for frequent visitors. Others echo his sentiments.


“I think it will take some getting used to,” said David Schwartz, a gambling historian at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “It’s just going to be a different kind of experience, I think, where you’re not standing shoulder to shoulder at the craps table.”

To maintain social distancing, the Nevada Gaming Control Board will limit craps tables to six players. Blackjack tables will be capped at three. Chips, playing cards and dice will be sanitized.

Social distancing will be imperative in the reopening strategy, said Bill Hornbuckle, acting president and chief executive officer of MGM Resorts International.

At its Bellagio property, for instance, “we’re only going to occupy 1,200 ... of the 4,000 rooms,” he said. “We’re only going to let presumably 25[%] to 30% of the normal visitation in the door so that people can social-distance … without being concerned that they’re overcrowded or overrun.”

Other changes in the offing

•Thermal imaging cameras at resort entrances will check guests’ temperatures as they arrive. People with temperatures above 100.4 degrees will be turned away and encouraged to seek medical treatment.


•At MGM properties, guests can skip the line at check-in by registering on an app. Their mobile device can also act as a room key.

•At Bellagio and New York-New York, the first two MGM Resorts properties to reopen, casino players will be greeted with hand-washing stations, complete with sinks, soap and sanitizer.

•At various properties, amenity kits containing masks, gloves and hand sanitizer will be provided. Guests will be encouraged but typically not required to wear a mask.

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•Showrooms and other entertainment venues will remain closed for the foreseeable future. MGM Resorts says it will be at least July 1 before any shows, such as Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at Bellagio, will relaunch.

Smaller crowds a plus?

The hustle and bustle that is Vegas — groups gathered around a winner at a slot machine, in a swimming pool or on the sidewalk in front of the Fountains of Bellagio — will be muted, vanquished by the virus, and resort employees tasked with keeping strangers apart.


“It could almost be a positive,” Curtis said. “You’re going to have diminished crowd counts; you’re going to be able to get around, move around, do things.

“If you want the full megillah, then you’ve got to wait. If it’s really going to bug you — that it’s not the way that you remember — then you’re not going to want to come out here in June.”

Normalcy, however, is a ways off, Hornbuckle said: “I think we’re well into ’21.... Our goal isn’t necessarily to make money. It’s to lose less money and to get people in the workforce back.”

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The resorts also are banking on the return of Southern Californians who typically travel to Nevada by car.

“It’s going to be ‘Little California,’” Curtis said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of California drive-ins right off the bat, especially the younger group, and weekends are going to be relatively good in Vegas right from the start.

“I think what’s going to really dictate a lot of this is that the airlines are going to be a bigger deterrent than the casinos themselves. The fly-ins are not going to come in [as quickly].”


Curtis’ expectation that young adults will be the first to return is fueled by already shifting demographics. Nearly 40% of Vegas visitors already are millennials, and Curtis thinks many of them have a “this-thing-can’t-hurt-me” attitude about COVID-19, he said.

Prices will be a lure

Low prices may also help attract visitors again.

“I’m absolutely certain that we’re going to see some really tremendous rates,” Curtis said.

Among the limited number of properties accepting reservations for June 1, here’s a sampling of nightly room prices (as of May 11). Resort fees of $32-$45 and taxes are not included; rates will be higher on weekends:

•Bellagio: $139
•Caesars Palace: $99
Cosmopolitan: $160
•New York-New York: $29
Sahara: $76
•Treasure Island: $98
•Wynn: $169

Where’s the entertainment?

The entertainment industry will be slower to recover. Robbie Williams, who wowed the crowds at Encore last November, canceled his eight July concerts, urging his fans in a news release to “stay safe and well.”

Life is Beautiful,” a huge celebration of the arts that brings more than 185,000 people to downtown Las Vegas each September, has canceled its 2020 festival.

One bright spot is downtown’s Neon Museum, which plans to reopen May 22. The open-air museum will display four works by film director and artist Tim Burton, whose popular exhibition was shut down when the museum abruptly closed along with the rest of Nevada in mid-March.