Governor Closes Nevada Casinos for 30 Days to Curb COVID-19 Spread

| March 18, 2020 3:00 am PDT
Governor Closes Nevada Casinos for 30 days to Curb COVID-19 Spread

“What Happens in Vegas Only Happens Here.”

That new motto is being put to the test this week thanks to Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, who took to the airways Tuesday, March 17, to order the closure of all “nonessential businesses” in the state.

The closures, which are meant to remain in effect until at least April 16, 2020, are meant to suppress the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus).

Included in the Governor’s list of “nonessential businesses” are casinos, schools, colleges, liquor stores, strip clubs, gyms, beauty salons, barber shops, malls, and restaurants that do not provide takeout or delivery services.

The Outbreak of COVID-19

Since the first awareness of SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 in late November, 2019, governments have been hard at work trying to develop a cohesive, effective plan to at least reduce the effects of the disease among the world’s population, and further, to suppress or turn back the spread of the virus.

Until recently, that suppression effort has been patchwork at best, but there has been a steady stream of closures of restaurants, cancellations of shows, and residencies postponed—all made by various businesses to protect their customers, employees, and stockholders.

Now, it appears, some governmental offices are willing to step in and make some tough—and potentially disastrous–choices.

The closure of casinos that provide the vast majority of Nevada employment comes at the end of a series of postponements and cancellations in many sports leagues, including the cancellation of the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament, the shift of the planned Las Vegas-hosted NFL Draft in April to a televised-only event to be hosted elsewhere, and the first postponement of the Kentucky Derby in 74 years.

Incidentally, it was last illegal to gamble in Nevada 87 years ago. Since that time, no disaster, natural or manmade, has interfered with the roll of the dice in Vegas casinos. From the Asian Flu to the swine flu, the bird flu, and even the camel flu, gamblers and casinos pit bosses have soberly noted the news of each–and then returned to their games.

But not today. At least, not in the case of the dealers and the pit bosses and the bellmen and the concierge and the housekeepers and the chefs and the barbacks. They are applying online for unemployment.

Timing Isn’t Always Everything

Both Wynn and MGM Resorts International beat Governor Sisolak to the punch when both corporations announced on Monday, March 16, massive lay-offs and furloughs for employees at their casinos in Nevada. MGM Resorts operates 30 resort-casinos worldwide—17 of those are in Las Vegas. The latest reports claim that MGM has closed all of its casinos worldwide.

Wynn Resorts, of course, operates the Wynn Las Vegas and the Encore resort casinos, as well the Encore Boston Harbor, which it also closed for two weeks—and Wynn Palace Cotai and Wynn Macau, which were both closed last month by the Macau government, and only recently were permitted to reopen.

While Wynn promised in a memo on Monday to its employees that they would be paid during the furlough, MGM promised only that full-time employees would receive two weeks additional pay. Neither company noted how on-call employees—those who may work 40 hours a week or more but are not considered “full-time employees” with a set schedule—will be treated.

In an internal video address, Wynn CEO Matt Maddox assured employees that pay would continue even if their part of the resorts closed. “What our concern is,” Maddox said in the video, “is that we all get through this together.”

On the other hand, MGM Resorts International, the largest nongovernmental employer in Nevada, used the term “laid-off” almost exclusively in its own earlier announcement of the two-week closure.

In any case, on Tuesday, Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International, announced that not only was his company complying with Gov. Sisolak’s closures, but was closing down all MGM properties in the US, including the Beau Rivage and Gold Strike casinos in Mississippi, the Borgata in Atlantic City, the MGM Grand in Detroit, and various other casinos in Maryland, Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts.

Penn National Gaming, which operates more than 40 casinos and racetracks nationwide, is closing its three Nevada casinos—Tropicana Las Vegas, the M Resort, and Cactus Pete’s in Jackpot, Nevada.

Governor Sisolak’s closure of all casinos in the state render moot the Wynn and MGM closures and affect far more than the few thousands of employees suddenly without jobs.

With virtually every business related to the service or hospitality industry shuttered, hundreds of thousands of people are now without jobs. It isn’t a matter of finding another job in a different city for, say, a dealer or a hotel desk clerk, because those jobs aren’t available anywhere else. Not in Nevada, anyway.

Other casino operators have voiced their support of the closures. Boyd Gaming has announced it complying with Gov. Sisolak’s closure, as has Station Casinos, which operates locals-oriented hotel-casinos scattered around the Las Vegas valley.

Caesars Entertainment announced over the weekend that it only intended to close down “live entertainment events” at its Las Vegas properties, but Gov. Sisolak’s order has changed that to “everything.”

We also have a closer look at how Las Vegas has been dealing with the coronavirus. And of course, you can also read our take on the effect of coronavirus on mobile wagering.

J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with poker, blackjack, and slots.

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