After 78 days of being shut down, Las Vegas casinos reopened yesterday. I visited every casino open on the Strip to see what they have done to protect customers and employees against COVID-19. This is what I observed.
I set out to walk the Strip to take a customer’s view of each casino. Joined by Andrew Uyal a casino supervisor and author of Blackjack Insiders, our mission was to see what Strip casinos are doing to provide protection against COVID-19. The Strip, for the purpose of our “walkabout”, starts at Mandalay Bay and goes to The Strat, a distance of 4.6 miles. There are 28 casinos owned by 10 companies. The majority of the properties are owned by MGM Resorts (9) and Caesars Entertainment (8).
For the record we started our walkabout at the MGM Grand at midday and finished it at The Strat five hours later. Out of the 28 properties only 15 of them were open. The 13 properties that remained closed were owned by MGM Resorts, Caesars Palace and Penn National Gaming. The outside temperature on The Strip ranged from 101 to 107 degrees. We drank a lot of water.
We focused on safety measures that had been highlighted in newly introduced regulations, news reports and recently circulated promotions. These measures included: masks, temperature checks, plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer, signage and restrictions put in place to ensure physical distancing. I compiled a checklist of all the Strip properties (at bottom of page) with the measures they did or did not put into place. Here are some of the key observations I will touch on:
Physical distancing is not achievable in casinos.
Staff are wearing masks, players don’t have to…with some interesting exceptions.
Smoking is permitted everywhere except…
Despite the hype only two casino companies are temperature checking.
Despite the hype only two casino companies had plexiglass barriers on their table games.
Despite the hype no casinos had plexiglass barriers on their slot machines.
The Strip has the cleanest dice on the planet.
My first observation was sadly the Strip was pretty quiet. Not the Vegas I know and love. Not many customers. Not much gambling. Not much traffic on the street. Not much yahoooo!
Let’s talk about COVID-19 safety measures:
It’s well known and accepted that the CDC guidelines suggest people in public places try to stay 6-feet away from each other. To comply with gaming regulator guidelines all casinos have placed restrictions on numbers of players at table games and slot machines in accordance with the state regulators mandate of limiting occupancy to 50%. Casinos are restricting card games to 3 players, roulette to 4 players and craps to 6 players. I did not see the closure of adjacent tables as had been previously suggested by somebody. Casinos are complying with the player restriction guidelines but c’mon now, staying 6-feet away from people will not happen in casinos unless they double the size of the tables (see picture), but I won’t tell anyone.
In the slot areas most (but not all) casinos have turned off every second machine, including the player stations at every electronic table and stadium games. Taking away chairs seems to be the favored measure for achieving physical distancing on the games but we did observe in a casino where every second machine wasn’t turned off; a couple rearranged chairs to facilitate playing beside each other. I also saw very little monitoring and enforcement of physical distancing in the slot areas. As was the case in pre-COVID times there’s very few staff left in the slot areas nowadays. Nothings changed. I also wondered how casinos are going to monitor head counts to comply with the 50% occupancy rule. Most Strip casinos don’t physically monitor all the entrances into their casinos. Good luck with that.
It was pleasing to see all staff wearing masks provided by the casinos, except for Treasure Island where beverage staff have to buy their own. All Strip casinos are not requiring customers to wear masks but there are a couple of interesting exceptions for table game players. (I’ll get to that.) My estimation of customers voluntarily wearing masks was between 25-50%. I chose to wear one. In fact I made it my mission to collect one from every property. Personally, I didn’t feel safe around the non-mask wearing gamblers but that’s just me. I can only imagine what’s it’s going to be like when the boisterous experience-seeking crowd comes to town in the weekend.
All casinos provide masks to customers but I wouldn’t say they encourage it. Apart from Wynn, who offered me a mask at the entrance, masks are provided but you have to find them first. MGM properties have installed stations containing masks and hand sanitizer at entrances and other locations. At Caesars Palace you’re met by friendly security officers at the main entrance with a box of masks. Unfortunately, at all the other casinos you have to ask somebody and hope that somebody knows where to get them. One security guy without gloves reached into a box and gave me a mask. A little more training could help.
Overall casinos on the Strip are allowing smoking. However, to my surprise there are three casino companies that have placed restrictions on smoking at table games.
Caesars properties are not allowing players to smoke at table games and are requiring them to wear masks when they play. It was interesting to note that the two Caesars properties we visited had by far the largest table game action.
MGM properties are not allowing table games player to smoke at craps and roulette games and are requiring those players to wear a mask. MGM has gone the plexiglass route on their card games but they don’t have it on their roulette tables. Their craps tables have plexiglass dividers but they don’t serve as a physical barrier between players and staff. They appear to acknowledge that virus particles could be shared between players and dealers on those games so they are requiring players to wear masks and do not permit smoking on roulette and craps.
The Sahara doesn’t require players to wear masks but they do require them to step away from the table if they want to smoke. The Sahara is the only casino on the Strip requiring their table games staff to wear eye protection. If staff members don’t normally wear glasses they provide them with wicked good styl’n safety goggles.
Overhyped and Didn’t Happen
Temperature checking customers has been talked up extensively by vendors and the press. Only two companies on the Strip are actually doing it - Wynn and Las Vegas Sands. Both are using thermal camera technology. At the Venetian I observed a customer fail the camera test and she was immediately given a second test with an alternative temperature gun, which she passed. So which “high-tech” device was right?
Only two casino companies are doing the plexiglass thing on the tables - MGM Resorts and Wynn. My over/under for taking the plastic away is before July 4th.
No casino on the Strip has installed plexiglass barriers between slot machines. However, a shout out to old Circus Circus. We found a bank of machines where each machine was surrounded with what I can best describe as a row of shower screens (see picture).
Cleanest Dice on the Planet
At MGM, Wynn, Venetian, Sahara and the Strat properties we observed dice washing at the craps table. Generally two sets of dice are used. The shooter is offered one set to choose their two dice while the other set is washed by the box person/floor supervisor on the table. After each shooter rolls a seven-out the clean set is offered to the next shooter. I found compliance with the procedure a bit spotty between properties especially when it came to dice being thrown off the table and picked up by a passer by but I’ll put that down to first day kinks. I couldn’t help think that the box-person cleaning the dice with a rag reminded me of magicians pulling the old dove from the handkerchief trick.
In regards to card games where players are usually allowed to touch the cards we didn’t really see enough action on those type of games to make an assessment. We did see a blackjack double deck pitch game and a poker derivative game being dealt face up to the players.
Apart from all the staff wearing face masks, which by the way after a while looks like part of the uniform, and the supposed extra cleaning (it’s hard to tell), everything looks the same - minus the crowds. If it wasn’t for the staff wearing masks you wouldn’t know we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 100,000 Americans in the last 3 months.
To me there’s a little bit of a vibe of look we’re doing the right thing. Our staff are wearing masks. Everyone else please feel free to do whatever you want. Your virus is safe with us. COVID signage is at most entrances but it’s designed for sober people with very good eye sight and a lot of time on their hands and I did not see any mention of providing masks to customers (I could have blinked and missed it). I fear if there is a breakout in Vegas it will be because casinos didn’t make everyone wear masks.
My biggest takeaway from our walkabout is that every casino company on the Strip is doing something different. Moving from property to property was a little bit like a box of chocolate but you could see a consistent approach within casino ownership groups. Like the entire casino industry it appears to me that everyone is not in agreement with how they should protect customers and staff from contracting COVID-19. There’s a lot of people winging it or landing on the very minimum requirement to save costs.
Thankfully there is one thing all the casinos on the Strip have in common right now. The sweltering summer heat. Let’s hope those armchair doctors are right and the heat is our kryptonite against COVID-19. stay well willy