Harrah’s New Orleans to be first U.S. casino to require vaccination or negative COVID-19 test

Harrah’s New Orleans to be first U.S. casino to require vaccination or negative COVID-19 test

  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
August 13, 2021 1:12 AM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel & Casino will become the first resort in the nation to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to be allowed to enter, as part of a comprehensive indoor mandate handed down Thursday by Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Cantrell’s mandate covers not only casinos, but also race tracks, such as the Fairgrounds, which has slot machines. In addition, the vaccine mandate applies to bars, restaurants, gyms, concerts, and the newly redubbed Caesars Superdome, starting Monday.

New Orleans joins the ranks of such cities as New York and San Francisco in requiring vaccines for indoor dining and other activities. Los Angeles is considering one as well.

Some entertainment venues in Las Vegas’ casinos may also be subjected to a requirement to be vaccinated come October, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Also on Thursday, national concert promoter AEG Presents, which operates the entertainment venue at Resorts World Las Vegas (that opens with Celine Dion on Nov. 6) and the theater at Virgin Hotels, announced that ticket holders need to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 to gain entry. AEG partners with MGM Resorts International at T-Mobile Arena, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s entertainment columnist John Katsilometes said that venue will be exempt. It’s unclear at this time whether AEG headliners at Wynn Las Vegas will be affected by the mandate, he added.

The Las Vegas Raiders, which will play their first game in front of fans during Saturday’s preseason contest at Allegiant Stadium, said they will enforce Clark County’s mask mandate reinstated on July 30. The mandate was loosely enforced at the Gold Cup soccer final earlier this month, drawing criticism.

Although not as dire in Nevada, Louisiana and New Orleans in particular have had their share of problems with the growing rates of infection and hospitalization from COVID-19. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported Louisiana set COVID-19 hospitalization records for 10 straight days as of Wednesday. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival rescheduled for October was recently canceled.

Julia Carcamo, owner of a New Orleans-based casino-marketing company, said the city and state are trending in the wrong direction with COVID-19 cases. She noted that with the latest vaccine mandate, the mayor is trying to be cautious, though it might impact play at Harrah’s New Orleans.

“We may see some numbers dip, but I think it’s going to be for a short time,” Carcamo said. “This whole ordeal has been 18 months now, and people continue to adjust.”

Brendan Bussmann, a director of public affairs for Global Market Advisors who tracks the Louisiana gaming industry, said New Orleans has been one of the stricter cities throughout the pandemic. He said the vaccine mandate is not surprising, given the additional mandates being handed down throughout the country.

“It would have a short-term impact on Harrah’s property and New Orleans as it relates to travel,” Bussmann said. “But it’s yet to be seen how anything else in the rest of the state would (join them). I’d be a little shocked if that came up anytime in the near future, based on what we’ve seen down there before.”

Gamblers may turn to other properties just outside the city limits in the short term, Bussmann said.

Harrah’s New Orleans is owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment. The company did not return phone calls to comment on the vaccine mandate. Neither did the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.

COVID-19 restrictions over masks are already having an impact on Las Vegas tourism, Bussmann said in his analysis. Two prospective events at Allegiant Stadium this fall have decided against scheduling because of the indoor mask mandate, he said. “I’m traveling right now and when I flew out of Las Vegas on Tuesday, traffic was down at McCarran (International Airport),” Bussmann said. “No doubt about it.”

Bussmann is wait-and-see as to whether or not other states and cities with casinos will require a vaccine or negative test to enter.

“What we’ve said from the beginning is this is all unprecedented,” Bussmann said. “It’s very day to day, whether that’s mask mandates, a potential third shot, or other requirements like hospitality outlets requiring vaccines for employees. There’s a lot on the table and a lot of moving parts on how it’s all going to shake out. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes elsewhere.”

Carcamo said it’s been interesting to see how COVID is being treated around the country. She said she was in Iowa last week and no one was wearing masks. Marketers, especially those in the South, will be more cautious in how they move forward this fall, she said.

“Casino marketers have learned to be more judicious in how to use their marketing dollars, and that’s going to come back again,” Carcamo said. “I was just at a slot tournament in Iowa, the first one in more than a year. For New Orleans, that kind of event is going to start to pull back again until we resettle into our new normal, I hate to say.”