Are the Casinos in Las Vegas Overreacting to COVID-19?

| March 12, 2020 10:53 am PDT
Las Vegas Coronavirus

Resort casinos in Las Vegas are responding to the Wuhan coronavirus with a variety of tactics, from placing additional dispensers of hand sanitizer on the casino floor to closing down entire buffets and restaurants.

There are a lot of behind the scenes changes taking place as well. Caesars Entertainment has canceled all business travel to “higher risk areas” and has taken that a step further by requiring employees who travel for personal reasons to high-risk areas to quarantine themselves in their homes for three weeks at home upon their return to the US.

Although it has stepped up its cleaning and hygiene requirements among employees, Caesars has not closed anything and does not intend to—pending changing recommendations from the Center for Disease Control. By all appearances, it’s business as usual at the Caesars Entertainment properties in Las Vegas.

Other casinos, however, have had different responses. Even before the coronavirus was declared a worldwide pandemic, some companies were taking action. But is Las Vegas overreacting to the coronavirus?

It’s Not About the Money, It’s the Principle of the Thing

Depending on who you ask, MGM Resorts International’s voluntary closures of buffets and restaurants are either a safety measure to protect both guests and employees from the infection or are a calculated move to limit the company from exposure to lawsuits.

MGM Resorts International is still smarting from the $800 million settlement in the class action suit against it involving many of the victims of Stephen Paddock, who smuggled several guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition into his 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay hotel suite and, on October 1, 2017, began firing on concert-goers in the plaza below, killing 58 and injuring 851 others before turning his weapon upon himself.

Wynn Resorts is taking the same moderate approach Caesars is. Heightened awareness of proper hygiene among the employees, deep cleaning of the facilities, and—a typically Wynn touch—waiters to plate your food for you at the buffets (both at Wynn and Encore).

What If They Had a Convention and Nobody Came?

But closures of restaurants and self-quarantines are not limited to Las Vegas resort conglomerates. Mega-corporations elsewhere are also scrambling to limit liability exposure, er, protect their employees and customers—at least as far as their contact with Las Vegas is concerned.

Google was among the first, canceling its sales and marketing conference that would have brought thousands of techies—and millions of techie dollars—to Sin City, as well as numerous other conferences in other states. Recently, the National Association of Broadcasters has canceled its April convention after some big exhibitors withdrew from the show.

Just today (Thursday, March 12), the PAC-12 canceled all remaining games of the PAC-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas over concerns about the coronavirus. Earlier in the week, the organization had announced the tournament would continue but with fan attendance barred.

Even the Las Vegas Polo Classic is being postponed from April 18-19 to July 16-18 and will be held at the South Point Hotel and Casino’s Equestrian Center.

And while the 2020 NFL Draft—which is scheduled for April 23-25 and is expected to draw up to a million fans—is currently scheduled to run as planned, the NFL is “monitoring developments [with the Wuhan coronavirus] closely.”

Many associations with conventions planned this year are switching to “virtual” conferences, but these tend to be those where the information exchanged is more important than rewarding employees for a good year with gambling and other assorted Vegas-y things.

Amidst the scramble to cancel, postpone, or otherwise attenuate exposure to viral and/or legal risk, the largest construction trade show in North America—CONEXPO-CON/AGG—is currently running as scheduled (March 10-14), bringing thousands of construction executives and builders to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Convention organizers say they are “following protocols provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding COVID-19/Coronavirus.”

So, What, Exactly, Is the Correct Level of Panic Here?

Regardless of the rationale behind the closure of a restaurant or the cancellation of a big Vegas convention, history will be the only real judge of what was an appropriate response to the threat of COVID-19 and what can safely be labeled hysteria and/or panic.

Nobody wants to be the guy (or gal) who made it possible for COVID-19 to find hundreds or even thousands of new victims. So as much as we’d like to punish Jim Murren of MGM Resorts International for shutting down a bunch of MGM buffets and restaurants in Vegas, that wouldn’t be fair.

Maybe MGM made the decision coldly and calculatedly to protect shareholders from another $800 million hit. Maybe it was pure concern over the health of MGM guests, gamblers, and employees that motivated the closures. Maybe it was a bit of both.

That isn’t important. What is important is that if COVID-19 turns out to be, as some people are snarking, the “Y2K of epidemics,” such panic closures/cancellations can be laughed at, and we can all be relieved enough to give Jim Murren a pass on his panic.

But if, somehow, COVID-19 turns out to be as bad as—or even worse than—the Ebola virus (which had a 40% mortality rate), then we might just be erecting statues of Murren and others in parks all over Las Vegas.

For a balanced picture of fear vs. fact, read this article over at The Conversation.

And if that doesn’t alleviate some of your concerns about COVID-19, you can always do your gambling online. Just like the rest of us.

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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