Nevada gaming regulators file complaint against the Sahara Las Vegas for violating COVID-19 protocols

August 5, 2020 8:47 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
August 5, 2020 8:47 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Nevada gaming regulators filed a two-count disciplinary complaint against the Sahara Las Vegas this week alleging the Strip resort had four instances where the property violated state-mandated health and safety guidelines implemented to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to the Gaming Control Board, the Sahara allowed a local trade organization to hold a luncheon in the property’s conference center in which 135 people attended the event on July 23, a violation of social distancing orders that capped group events at 50 or fewer individuals.

On June 16, the Sahara is alleged to have allowed four patrons to stand on the side of a craps table when only three of the customers were playing in the game. The same day, state gaming agents said they witnessed a person standing between two players at a blackjack table and not participating in a game. Also, the agents said they witnessed five patrons surrounding a slot machine player and not participating in gaming activity.

The alleged incidents violated the state’s social distancing guidelines in the COVID-19 mitigation policies.

The Sahara, which is owned by Los Angeles-based Meruelo Group, is facing monetary fines from state gaming regulators. Meruelo Group also owns Grand Sierra in Reno.

A spokesman for the Gaming Control Board said Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan would not comment on pending disciplinary matters.

According to the complaint, the Sahara’s vice president of government affairs told a gaming agent there was a “misunderstanding” about occupancy limits and gatherings. The executive thought — based on a conference call with the Nevada Resort Association, Clark County Commission Chairwoman  Marilyn Kirkpatrick, and Morgan — that a luncheon could be held with the 50% standard for restaurants.

The complaint also alleges that Sahara executives, when notified about the violations in the casino floor, “acknowledged and immediately corrected the situations” at the craps and blackjack tables. The assistant casino manager, “also spoke with dealers” about maintaining the social distancing requirements.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the resort said the casino’s management has worked to “continuously to adhere to the health and safety standards” that were handed down by state gaming regulators and the governor.

“As stated in the Nevada Gaming Control Board filing, we acknowledged and immediately corrected conditions related to state-mandated social distancing protocols inside the resort identified shortly after reopening in June,” according to the email. “Prior to that, we worked with health experts to develop our own stringent health and sanitation protocols. We routinely review these protocols with team members to ensure compliance across the resort. Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our guests and team members and we will continue to work cooperatively with government agencies to ensure we meet these high standards.”

The disciplinary action marks the fifth complaint the Gaming Control Board has filed against licensed state gaming operators for violating health and safety guidelines implemented after a 78-day shutdown of Nevada’s casino industry ended on June 4. The complaint against the Sahara was the first action taken against a Strip property.

Last week, the Control Board said it opened 156 regulatory cases statewide, relating to non-compliance with the protocols and policies implemented by the agency and approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Three disciplinary actions were filed against Northern Nevada properties.

Hotel Nevada in Ely and C.O.D. Casino in Minden were cited for incidents involving employees and patrons not wearing face masks, which is mandatory statewide. Incline Bowl in Incline Village, a restricted license holder, was cited for not turning off its bar top slot machines following the governor’s directive to close stand-alone bars and bar top areas inside restaurants and taverns in seven counties on July 10.

The board also filed a complaint against slot machine route operator Century Gaming last week for allowing six bar top slot machines at a bar in Winnemucca to continue to operate almost a week after the governor’s directive.

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