How do you socially distance at a Vegas casino? Caesars shares the new look of gambling
Outside the main entrance to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the cobbled drive is devoid of the usual crowd of cars and their passengers. The front doors, usually open around-the-clock, are chained and padlocked. Inside, the space around the Julius Caesar statue is empty and quiet, absent the stream of people snapping selfies.
The 54-year-old hotel-casino is expected to reopen next month after its forced hibernation in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. I toured it recently to get a sense of what has changed and how the guest experience will change with it.
“The first time walking through the hotel lobby and walking down Colosseum Way and not seeing anybody, it was spooky,” said Sean McBurney, general manager of the nearly 4,000-room property, which closed in mid-March with the others along the Strip as they sought to stop the virus’ spread.
Las Vegas restaurants are slowly starting to reopen. Expect social distancing, half-full dining rooms and costlier tabs.
If you were looking for a place to play hide-and-seek, Caesars on that day boasted a wealth of hiding spots: switched-off banks of slot machines, the pitch-black Forum Food Court, the cloaked-in-darkness entrance to Omnia nightclub.
“You know, this is a property [that] since 1966 has had tens of thousands of people walking through it each and every day,” McBurney said. “To go from tens of thousands of people walking through it every single day to maybe 15, most of those are security, is surreal.”
It is quiet in the vast lobby, the only sound a splashing fountain that had been turned on. All the others were drained of water once the shutdown began.
Nearby, the noise of construction work came from the Bacchanal Buffet, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. Only a handful of restaurants and lounges will greet returning guests; the newly refreshed Bacchanal will make its debut later.
“How much we reopen and how many amenities we introduce is really a function of how much demand there is for the business,” McBurney said. “But we have to have a fun environment.”
There will still be fun in the colossal casino, but the environment will be quite different at the 1,500 machines and 150 tables.
Employees must wear masks; guests are strongly encouraged to do so. Social distancing will be part of the altered reality; the number of seats at blackjack tables reduced from six to three. Craps tables will see a more dramatic decline: from a maximum of 15 players to a six.
MGM resort properties in Las Vegas will drop self-parking fees for the “future” in its Strip properties. Caesars Palace and Flamingo drop the charge too.
Playing the slots will change too. “Every other game is going to be deactivated and every other chair is going to be removed,” McBurney said. “We can’t have crowding.”
Most of the slots were silent as technicians were using the closure to rewire them, creating what McBurney called a “high-speed gaming floor.”
The Forum Shops, some of America’s priciest real estate, lay ahead. But in a stark example of unprecedented changes, the yawning entrance was sealed off by a giant, metal fire door. It’s unclear whether the mall will reopen when the resort does; it all depends on state regulators.
Caesars’ employees must wear masks. Guests are strongly encouraged to do so, and they’re available upon request.
Elsewhere, protocols are different. As guests enter the Venetian and Wynn-Encore, thermal imaging camera will take guests’ temperatures.
Some hotels will provide keep-well amenity kits — complete with face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer — in guest rooms., (Caesars is not among them.)
Bellagio and New York-New York, MGM Resorts’ first two properties to reopen, will install hand-washing stations — sinks, soap and sanitizer — in the casinos. Caesars will not.
Some Las Vegas resort hotels hope to open for Memorial Day. Social distancing means smaller crowds, but rooms will be less expensive for now.
“We’re encouraging our guests and employees to wash hands as frequently as possible,” McBurney said. “We’re also going to make hand sanitizer available in all the common areas. The company, to date, has acquired over 225 million dabs of hand sanitizer” — equivalent to 1.9 million 12-ounce bottles of the keep-clean liquid. Caesars has an ample supply of face masks for visitors who ask for them, he said.
Where guests will stay
Initially, overnight guests will stay in the Augustus Tower.
“It’s right off the main lobby [with] beautiful views of the Bellagio fountains [and] 650-square-feet standard rooms,” McBurney said.
Room rates will fluctuate based on demand, which is common in Vegas, where prices can change by the hour.
A room for two begins at $169 the last weekend of May and $149 a night all of the weekends in June, its rate calendar shows. Sundays through Thursday, rates for two begin at $99. A stay June 12-15 — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — costs $397, but your total will be $603.18. Taxes add $71.38 and resort fees come to $135. Some things, alas, in the all-new Las Vegas do not change.
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