Dear Nevada Resort Industry: Don’t be Lake of the Ozarks

eyes have it
(Photo: Bridget Bennett)

Casino executives are smarter than everybody else in Nevada. That’s what people say.

Let’s hope so.

The industry has more money than the state. It probably has contracted more — and more high-dollar  — health experts too. 

Remember when the governor named former MGM CEO Jim Murren to head up a task force to scour the world for medical supplies? “His extensive and deep relationships in a wide variety of industries across the country, and the world, will allow the State to benefit from a depth of knowledge, experience, and access to resources that we otherwise wouldn’t have,” Sisolak said. The seemingly awe-struck governor would repeat the “he knows people I don’t know” line about Murren multiple times in ensuing weeks. Nevadans could be forgiven for wondering if this hapless Sisolak person knew anyone at all.

With or without Murren, MGM, as well as Sands, Caesars, Wynn, and even the neighborhood casino corporations all still have something that opens doors and grants them “access to resources that we otherwise wouldn’t have”  — all that yummy aforementioned money.

Officially, state regulators will sign off on plans for reopening casino-hotels, and Sisolak will announce the dates, as he did Tuesday, when he confirmed casinos can resume taking money from gamblers June 4.

But resort corporations are the ones crafting those reopening plans, vast portions of which have not been made public (much to the Culinary union’s dismay). In other words, the industry is reopening on its own terms.

By the time the governor issued the order closing casinos on March 17, two of the state’s three largest resort operators had already closed on their own or announced they were about to, with virtually the entire industry poised to follow suit. The companies were in front then. There’s no reason to believe they’re not in front now. If they weren’t, it would violate the fundamental tenet of the sacred relationship between the state’s dominant industry and its servile state and local governments.

No one should be more afraid of having to shut down again than the people who make decisions in the resort industry. They paid good money for their reopening plans, and if resort executives want to do everything they can to not only open, but stay open, they’ll follow them to the letter.

Right?

And yet…

What happens when a group of revelers, suffering pangs of pent-up revelry demand, are in some major corporate casino or other, and start congregating en masse at a casino bar in violation of density protocols, and next thing you know they’re toasting Carolyn Goodman, not social distancing at all, and throwing caution to the wind all Lake of the Ozarks style?

Will casino security restore behavior to the cautionary and proper procedures delineated in the company-crafted, state-approved reopening plan?

Or will resort executives, just as tired and bored with the corona life as everyone else, decide “eh, let ‘em go” with a wave of the hand? Letting go, after all, is rather the point of a Las Vegas casino.

And when it happens once, what will keep it from happening again? And again? At every property in town? Is the Gaming Control Board going to shut down Bellagio or the Venetian, or for that matter even Green Valley Station or Ranch or whatever it’s called, for failing to follow state-approved reopening protocols? For flaunting them? Maybe the state will slap the offending properties with fines, something in the deep six figures per incident so as to deter corporate scofflaws?

Ha ha kidding the state will not do those things.

The reopening of Las Vegas is being accompanied by dramatically choreographed officialdom and solemn promises assuring utmost caution, just like science says. On paper, anyway.

How it plays out in the meat world remains to be seen.

But wait. Casinos executives are smart. They, and their experts, know full well that the coronavirus remains mired in mystery and uncertainty. While they’re keen to reopen, they don’t want to preside over slapdash procedures and then get blamed when the COVID reignites and the Fabulous Las Vegas Strip gets branded as the petri dish of Carolyn Goodman’s dreams.

For some reason this brings to mind that time MGM sued victims of the Oct. 1, 2017 mass murder on the Las Vegas Strip — or as the tragedy was branded, “1 October.” One company calculation was financial — MGM wanted to settle its liability claims as painlessly as possible. But there was also a public relations calculation, one that looked, from the outside, to be based on a presumption that whatever flack MGM would take in the short term, in the long term, well, the American consumer is nothing if not a study in short-attention-span theater. Perhaps resort executives are re-upping a similar calculation now.

We still don’t know what’s going to happen with the COVID, or when. But society, including that micro-portion of it comprising casino executives and the public officials who love them, is storming ahead into the fog. The return of pre-corona social behavior may not be because science and data says it’s a good idea, but because we just drop our guard.

For all the detailed procedures and protocols and promises, the resort industry’s plan is the same as the grand plan being implemented all across the nation: Open stuff up and, you know, see what happens.

You don’t need to be as smart as a casino executive to know it’s an awfully risky bet, and one we may come to regret. 

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.