Nevada gaming regulators encourage casino workforce vaccination before lifting capacity limits

April 3, 2021 10:02 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
April 3, 2021 10:02 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Nevada gaming regulators said they won’t relax COVID-19 capacity restrictions on casino floors throughout the state until a large portion of the gaming industry’s hospitality workers has been vaccinated against the virus.

In an unusual joint memorandum released late Friday from the Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission – and signed by both Board Chairman Brin Gibson and Commission Chairman John Moran Jr. – the regulators said, “viral surges are a continuing threat to the economic health of the gaming industry and greater state, as they threaten the hard-fought efforts undertaken over the last year to safely reopen.”

On May 1, the state plans to transition responsibility for COVID-19 mitigation measures to local governments. However, the Gaming Control Board – the full-time regulatory body the oversees gaming throughout the state – will oversee occupancy limits and other COVID-19 mitigation measures that cover gaming floors and “any other gaming-revenue producing areas of all restricted and nonrestricted licensees.”

Nevada casinos are currently operating under 50% capacity restrictions and Gibson said the board would take a “measured approach” and rely on a “number of factors” before increasing occupancy on casino floors.

Nevada’s COVID-19 rate of infection indicators and positive cases have declined or plateaued over the past couple of months and many Strip resorts have resumed 24/7 full-time operations, including hotel areas. Many properties have announced plans to resume live entertainment.

Casinos and pool areas were crowded over the last two weekends in March, causing Gibson to release a memo that warned operators resort pools are also limited to 50% capacity.

In the memo, Gibson and Moran said a key consideration before increasing capacity limits is “the status of vaccination penetration within in the state’s hospitality workforce.”

The chairmen said the state’s hospitality workforce, especially front-of-house personnel interacting with visitors, was “critically positioned” to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 both within the industry and the community.

Gibson and Moran called viral surges, “a continuing threat to the health and well-being of the significant portion of the population employed by the hospitality industry, making vaccination efforts an indispensable element in the board’s and commission’s ongoing COVID-19 strategy.”

Nevada’s COVID-19 inoculation efforts have grown throughout the state since December and Gov. Steve Sisolak has directed that everyone 16 and older will be eligible for shots beginning Monday.

More than 18% of the Nevada population is fully vaccinated, the state Department of Health and Human Services said this week, including nearly 334,000 people in the Las Vegas area. Almost one in three people statewide have begun the vaccination process.

Meanwhile, casino companies have begun drives to vaccinate their workforces.

The two biggest Las Vegas casino companies – MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment – along with the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Wynn Resorts and Station Casino are inoculating employees at clinics set up on their properties.

According to the Associated Press, MGM said in a statement that vaccination “is a critically important tool in helping to end the pandemic and accelerate our community’s economic recovery.”

“We’re committed to doing all that we can to help get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible by removing barriers to access and bringing vaccination clinics directly to our employees and their families,” the MGM statement added.

Station Casinos said its clinics begin next Tuesday at six of its casinos in the Las Vegas Valley and the company arranged with a paramedic and ambulance provider to administer the COVID-19 vaccine by appointment for workers and family members.

Gibson and Moran wrote that new COVID-19 variants “and a relatively low degree of vaccination penetration within the hospitality workforce” were the reasons for the memo.

“Consideration by the Board to increase gaming floor occupancy will only be taken in cases where licensees have taken measurable and material steps to vaccinate, and thereby, protect their workforce, visitors, and the community,” Gibson and Moran said.

Also, regulators warned casino operators the Control Board would, “take action against those that place short-term gain in violation” in violation of emergency directives or health and safety standards.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgaming.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.