Las Vegas casinos given green light to reopen next week

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Las Vegas casinos, which have been shuttered for more than two months because of the pandemic, will be able to reopen next week with restrictions on physical distancing and crowd numbers, the state's governor announced late Tuesday.

"We welcome the visitors from across the country to come here, to have a good time, no different than they did previously, but we're gonna be cautious," Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak told reporters during a late night press call.

He said he made the decision to reopen the multi-billion dollar gaming industry that is the bedrock of the state's economy on June 4 following consultations with health experts.

"We've taken every precaution possible," said Sisolak, who had been due to make the announcement during a press conference that was cancelled for fears he may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus last week.

Instead he made the announcement in a statement that was followed by a phone call with reporters from his home, where he is quarantining pending test results.

"I don't think you're going to find a safer place to come than Las Vegas by June 4, with the protocols that we've put in place, than the testing that we've put in place, with the contact tracing that will be in place by that time," the Democratic governor said. "We're encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time."

The Gaming Control Board earlier this month issued guidelines on the reopening of casinos, including limiting their occupancy capacity by half and restricting to three the number of people at table games.

It also recommended the removal of every other chair from in front of slot machines to maintain safe social distancing margins.

It was unclear as of yet which casinos will open their doors on June 4, but several companies, including Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, have backed physical distancing measures and said they would provide masks, gloves and hand sanitizers.

Casino workers, however, have balked at returning to work without enhanced measures to protect them.

- 'Matter of life or death' -

"This is a matter of life-or-death for workers, and I urge everyone to proceed very deliberately and very carefully," the Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 Las Vegas workers said in a statement. "Culinary Union members and other casino workers will become frontline workers because we are the ones who will interact with guests daily and frequently."

The Union is demanding that workers who will be most exposed be tested regularly and given protective equipment if needed.

"What happens if someone who arrives in Vegas asymptomatic, develops symptoms here and decides to hole up in their room for a couple of days instead of asking for medical attention?" the union said.

Nevada Public Radio said casinos are drawing up plans to lure tourists back to Sin City by offering free parking, steep discounts on rooms or waiving resort fees.

Sisolak said apart from casinos, churches and other places of worship can reopen as part of Phase 2 but they can only allow up to 50 people at a time and must comply with social distancing guidelines.

He also urged people to wear masks when outside their home.

"Help protect your fellow Nevadans," he said. "Wear your face covering like a badge of honor."

Businesses that will remain closed during the state's Phase 2 include adult entertainment establishments, brothels and nightclubs.

According to a report by consulting firm Applied Analysis for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, visitors spent $34.5 billion in southern Nevada in 2018, directly supporting more than 234,000 tourism jobs, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March.