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HOME > STRATEGY > Strategies & Tips > Ask the Slot Expert: Some Las Vegas casinos announce reopening plans

Ask the Slot Expert: Some Las Vegas casinos announce reopening plans

20 May 2020

By John Robison, Slot Expert™

A date to reopen casinos in Las Vegas isn't on the calendar yet (possibly Memorial Day or early June), but some casinos have announced the measures they will take to ensure the safety of their employees and customers. At least 52 casinos around the country, in addition, have already reopened.

It makes sense to me that Strip casinos would be very slow to reopen. Because they depend on tourism from around the world, they have the potential to be super spreaders. Better to wait and see what works and doesn't work in casinos that have a local audience before unlocking their doors. (Actually, many casinos had to improvise locking mechanisms for their public doors because they don't have locks!)

Casinos in Deadwood, South Dakota have reopened to business "15% or 20% higher than a typical weekend business," according to Caleb Arceneaux, CEO of Liv Hospitality. Occupancy was running 85% to 90%, with many driving in from surrounding states.

Distancing rules call for six feet of separation in bars, restaurants and on gaming floors. Masks are not required, but table games dealers must wear masks because they cannot maintain six feet of separation. Craps and poker tables are limited to four players.

On the slot floor, active machines are separated by two inactive machines. Slot staff will sanitize machines after each player and attach a sticker to the machine after it has been cleaned. The next player has to remove the sticker before he can play the machine. An empty machine with no sticker tells players that is a potentially contaminated machine and alerts staff that the machine needs to be sanitized.

My initial idea for machine sanitization was to have many antiseptic wipes dispensers on the slot floor and let players clean the machines themselves, but I think this plan is better. Trained personnel could use stronger products than those provided to the general public.

I have questions about this reopening. First, with distancing and player-limiting rules in effect, how could business be higher than on a typical weekend? Maybe fewer gamblers visited, but they bet the bankrolls they've been saving up during the shutdown?

Second, many visitors came from surrounding states. That's how a disease spreads.

And finally, from the pictures I found online, I don't see much distancing being practiced and very few visitors with masks. Employee masks may decrease the possibility that an infectious, asymptomatic employee infects visitors or other employees, but what is being done to limit the spread from an infectious, asymptomatic visitor?

Back in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts announced its seven-point safety plan for reopening. Employees will have their temperatures checked and will be asked about any current symptoms or exposure to infected individuals before entering a property. Employees will wear masks. Guests are encouraged to wear masks, which will be provided free of charge. Drink service will continue, but "we ask when customers are drinking to minimize the amount of time masks are removed." Guests are asked to "refrain from eating on the casino floor to minimize the amount of time masks are removed."

Floor guides will assist in six-foot distancing. Plexiglass barriers or face shields may be used where distancing is difficult. Routine cleaning will happen more frequently.

"We have always placed a high priority on air quality for our guests and have reviewed the operation of our HVAC systems to identify additional opportunities to enhance their effectiveness. Rigorous measures in accordance with the established guidelines to help mitigate the risk of virus transmission have been taken throughout our properties." No other details on this point.

Response protocols aimed at reducing the chance that the infection will spread are in place to deal with an infected guest or employee. And finally, the company is investigating more ways to provide contactless service to customers, like smartphone check-in and digital room keys.

Wynn Resorts also released details on its Health & Disinfection Program for Wynn Las Vegas. All casinos are working from the same set of guidelines, so it's not surprising that Wynn's plan has many elements in common with MGM's plan. Both plans require employees to wear masks, for example, and request that guests wear masks, which will be provided. Wynn however released a more detailed document.

The Table Games protocols are very interesting. Card games will be dealt face up and guests will not touch cards, with the exception of Baccarat, where guests will still be able to handle the cards. Cards will be destroyed after each use.

Supervisors will disinfect table game rails and chairs after each guest leaves a game. Dealers will disinfect dice for each new shooter. Baccarat buffet service will be suspended.

Notice that both plans ask guests to wear masks. Both plans say cocktail service will be available and one plan asks guests to minimize unmasked time while drinking.

Neither plan addresses an activity that could result in considerable unmasked time: smoking. A recent report on KTNV news asked whether smoking should remain when casinos reopen. UNLV professor and gaming historian David Schwartz appeared in the report. He said he wasn't surprised that the Gaming Control Board did not address smoking in its reopening guidelines because smoking has been so tied together with gaming. Smoke-free casinos "in other parts of the country haven't been as successful. There was a casino that opened in Atlantic City that opened with no smoking that didn't do well, but there could have been a lot of reasons for that."

I assume he's referring to the Revel, which opened on April 2, 2012, about two years before increased competition from neighboring states caused many of Atlantic City's casinos to close. Revel, in addition, envisioned itself as a high-end hotel that also happened to have a casino. According to a page on the World Casino Index site, Revel offered neither players cards nor comps nor reasonably priced dining options. There were a lot of reasons Revel was not successful.

About 20 years ago, the Silver City Casino in Las Vegas went smokefree and closed a number of years later. None of the articles I found online blamed the smokefree policy for the casino's closure.

I have to ask, if smoking is so tied to gaming, why was there so much competition for casino licenses in Boston, where smoking is banned?

In Nevada, smoking in casinos is allowed as an exemption to Nevada's clean air act. A blanket ban on smoking requires a legislative act, but I believe casinos are free to allow as much or as little smoking as they want. It's disingenuous to encourage guests to wear masks as much as possible and then allow an activity that could lead to long periods of masklessness.

Last week I posted a link to The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them. In the post, Dr. Bromage discussed how the virus spreads and the risks for various activities. One low-risk activity is grocery shopping. (Working in the grocery store, on the other hand, carries a much higher risk.)

Let's compare grocery shopping to going to the casino. Grocery stores have a large volume of air. So do casinos. Check.

Grocery stores can restrict the number of people in the store. Casinos can do the same, but the plans I've seen so far are designed for distancing in the casino, not limiting the number of people in the casino. Half-check.

Shoppers typically spend about an hour in the grocery store. Gamblers in a casino -- who knows? No check.

Number of people, airflow, and length of exposure are all variables in the level-of-risk equation. If one factor increses, you can decrease another. Referring to the many infections tied to a choir rehearsal, a restaurant, and a call center, Dr. Bromage concluded that "social distancing guidelines don't hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time, as people on the opposite side of the room were infected."

I don't like passing by people without masks when I'm out for a walk, but I know the risk from them is very low. I'm disappointed that I see so many people without masks and ignoring the directional markers in the aisles in the grocery store. Still, my brief encounters with them are low risk.

I'm not sure about spending a lot of time in a casino with maskless gamblers. There's one particularly smoky casino that I will not go back to. I know it has a poor ventilation system. I'd feel much more comfortable if all guests were required to wear masks all the time.

Last week I asked you to let me know what would make you comfortable enough to go back to a casino. I received a number of replies. I'll post them next week. In the meantime, please share any other thoughts you have. How do you think the casino experience will change? Are there are any aspects that may not come back until there are effective treatments or vaccines? Will any aspect never come back?

A few random thoughts....

I've heard a number of people freaking out over a recent report that talking can generate droplets that can remain in the air for up to 14 minutes. This experiment was conducted in a controlled environment and may not represent real-world conditions. It doesn't really matter whether droplets linger for 14 seconds or 14 minutes or how far they travel or how many are produced from a cough or a sneeze as opposed to talking. Wearing a mask and keeping social distance limit the spread of the virus.

When government evaluates a safety regulation, it has to weigh the cost of the benefit with the number of lives saved. To do this analysis, it has to put a value on a human life. This recent Planet Money podcast tells how the U.S. government arrived at its current figure, about $10 million.

In a major step towards some semblance of normalcy, my local Starbucks now has entryway pickup. I can walk to the store again. You wouldn't believe how excited the servers are to see someone in person instead of through a car window. Of course, I always have my mask on.

I was pleasantly surprised with how kind people are in that store's drive-thru queues. You can approach the entrance to the drive-thru from two different sides. When the line on one side gets long, it curves around through a neighboring parking lot. Regardless of which side you approach from, you can't always see the end of the line on the other side. I always did my best to see who was already in line on the other side so I could go behind them when the two lines merged. Many times, that person or another waved me in even though it really wasn't my turn yet.

Finally, I don't know why the grocery store I go to most often doesn't have garlic. The bin where the heads of garlic should be is always empty. Plenty of other stores have garlic, but I haven't seen a head of garlic in this Albertson's for two months. The store manager does look a little like a vampire.

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at slotexpert@slotexpert.com. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

Copyright © John Robison. Slot Expert and Ask the Slot Expert are trademarks of John Robison.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming's leading publications. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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