Updated Oct. 14, 2020. The reaction of gaming resorts to the pandemic has been something
of a bellwether for the hospitality and entertainment industries,
notably in the gaming hub of Las Vegas. The casinos were some of the
first to close en masse in mid-March, and they subsequently led the way
in crafting the protocols that would be required for them to reopen.
Wynn Las Vegas was one of the first companies to publicize guidelines, in the form of its 23-page Health & Safety Plan,
initially released in April. Since then, every gaming and hospitality
company across the globe has publicly shared its own roadmap for keeping
guests and employees safe. Now, Wynn is in the process of building an on-site Covid-19 testing lab for its Las Vegas properties, expected to be finished before Thanksgiving. And MGM Resorts International, as part of its new Convene with Confidence plan, is partnering with CLEAR's Health Pass for on-site health screenings and with Impact Health for rapid Covid-19 testing.
Many of the city's facilities are again open for business. Here's how suppliers across Las Vegas are putting safe-meeting
plans into action.
Back to Business in Vegas
Las Vegas casinos began to welcome visitors on June 4. Gaming companies have generally taken a phased approach, gradually opening more properties as demand warrants, and staggering the debut of amenities within their massive resorts.
“The excitement surrounding the reopening has been a blessing,” said Chris Meyer, CEM, CMP, the recently retired vice president of global sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, during Northstar’s summer Interact Las Vegas digital event. For a city that thrives on tourism and large gatherings, the shutdown was particularly challenging.
As of Oct. 1, the city increased its attendee cap at meetings to 250 people or 50 percent of a venue's capacity, whichever is fewer. Groups of up to 1,000 are permitted to convene in larger facilities, as long there aren't more than 250 people (or 50 percent capacity) in each ballroom. The state simultaneously released an extensive, 22-page document, "Nevada Guidelines for Safe Gatherings," which details requirements for meetings and events in a wide variety of venues and situations.
As Meyer pointed out, even without meetings and gambling, the city didn't entirely shut down between March and June. “Construction continued unabated,” he said, “and that provided us an opportunity to really accelerate work on some of these properties.”
Here’s a look at what’s already open and what the ongoing construction promises to bring to the city over the coming months.
What’s Happening Now
The giants of the Strip began reopening gradually this summer. By state order, all guests and employees must still wear face masks whenever on the premises, except while eating and drinking. Also by state order, all bar areas and nightclubs remain closed.
As of October, MGM Resorts International has opened all of its properties worldwide, each with a limited number of rooms and select amenities available — including all of its Las Vegas resorts: Aria, Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Delano (at Mandalay Bay), MGM Grand, Signature at MGM Grand, New York New York, Park MGM, Nomad and Vdara Hotel & Spa. Park MGM and Nomad opened at the end of September as the Strip's first smoke-free casino resort.
On Oct. 8, Caesars Entertainment resumed gaming operations daily and hotel operations on weekends for Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. The following resorts and attractions, also with limits on the number of guest rooms and amenities, are also open and operating: Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah's, the Linq Hotel + Experience, Paris, and the Linq Promenade, High Roller Observation Wheel, Fly Linq and Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck.
Wynn Resorts has opened both the Wynn and Encore towers, along with as many venues therein as state restrictions would allow. The Venetian and Palazzo have opened, as well, along with on-site attractions, such as the iconic singing gondoliers on the canals of the Venetian.
A wide variety of off-Strip resorts are also open, making the most of their facilities while adhering to state restrictions. South Point Casino Resort, for instance, hosted a major Professional Bull Riders competition recently at the on-site South Point Arena. The event was closed to spectators but the competition went on nevertheless, with strict distancing protocols in place.
The latest big news in gaming circles is the long-awaited closing of Eldorado Resorts’ $17.3 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment. The combined company — which retains the Caesars name — is now the largest casino owner in the world, and owns and operates more than 55 properties across 16 U.S. states, including eight resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. The company also owns licensing rights for properties in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Canada and Dubai, as well as a golf course in Macau.
In Las Vegas, the company’s newest facility, Caesars Forum, is complete and ready to host meetings. The 550,000-square-foot conference center is home to two 110,000-square-foot pillarless ballrooms, two 40,000-square-foot ballrooms and 100 breakout rooms. The highly configurable space provides plenty of room for distancing, as does the 100,000-square-foot Forum Plaza, the facility’s adjacent outdoor space. About 8,500 Caesars-operated hotel rooms provide access to the Forum, which is surrounded by Harrah’s Las Vegas, the Linq Hotel + Experience and Flamingo Las Vegas. The open-air Linq Promenade provides more dining and entertainment options alongside the Forum Plaza.
Plenty of new meetings options also recently debuted at the Wynn Las Vegas, in the form of a 400,000-square-foot expansion to the convention space. A new two-level structure overlooks the redesigned 18-hole golf course, providing 300,000 square feet of space. The project nearly doubled the overall event space available at the Wynn and Encore properties to 560,000 square feet.
In addition to an 83,000-square-foot pillarless ballroom and a 2,500-square-foot luxury hospitality lounge, new open-air options include the 20,000-square-foot outdoor pavilion and 20,000-square-foot event lawn. All meeting space at Wynn is powered by renewable energy, sourced from the nearby 160-acre Wynn Solar Facility.
The trend to provide outdoor event options in Las Vegas is likely to serve the venues well in the era of reducing virus risks. The recent MGM Grand Conference Center expansion also added some open-air space, in the form of a 5,500-square-foot outdoor courtyard. The $130 million expansion brought the facility’s total meeting square footage to 850,000 and added a whole floor of health-focused Stay Well Meetings rooms in the process.
Allegiant Stadium, the brand-new home of the relocated Las Vegas Raiders, wrapped up construction on July 30 and hosted its first Raiders game — without fans — on Sept. 21. The 65,000-seat, state-of-the-art domed facility is well equipped to host smaller events as well, with a wealth of private spaces and luxury suites throughout. The venue had been scheduled to celebrate its grand opening with a Garth Brooks concert on Aug. 22 — for which more than 65,000 tickets were sold in less than 75 minutes when they went on sale — but that concert has been rescheduled for Feb. 27, 2021.
What’s Coming Soon
Other major projects include the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which will add the new West Hall and another 1.4 million square feet to the facility’s footprint. When finished at the end of this year, the complex will cover more than 5 million square feet, with 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space — making it the largest convention center in North America, according to the LVCVA. Unfortunately, the massive Consumer Electronics Show, which was going to use that space in January, was cancelled on July 28 and will now be held online.
Work by the Boring Co. also continues on schedule on the autonomous-transportation system under the convention center grounds. The innovative, $52.5 million endeavor is the first commercial project from the Elon Musk-owned enterprise and is set to debut in January. Two tunnels are being constructed to connect the entire 200-acre convention center campus, which passengers will be able to traverse in less than two minutes.
In June, Wynn Las Vegas and Boring submitted a land-use application to design another tunnel that would connect the Wynn resort with the convention center's transportation system. And on Oct. 13, the LVCVA announced that the first steps were underway to construct a more extensive system across Las Vegas. According to that plan, Vegas Loop will have underground tunnels stretching north as far as downtown, throughout the Strip corridor and south to Allegiant Stadium, pending approval by the Stadium Authority. All-electric autonomous Tesla vehicles will whisk passengers across the city.
The city’s shutdown was actually advantageous to the construction timeline for Circa, the first new resort to be built in downtown Las Vegas since 1980. That 777-room, adults-only property is now slated to open on Oct. 28, slightly ahead of schedule. Unique features will include a sportsbook with a giant, 78-million-pixel screen; a year-round pool amphitheater with advanced sanitation and recirculation patterns; and the tallest hotel tower north of the Strip.
The massive Resorts World complex, still planning to debut in the summer of 2021, recently announced it would partner with AEG on a 5,000-seat, on-site theater with an extremely spacious, 13,550-square-foot stage. Meanwhile, room designs progress for the 3,500-room resort, which will have three towers of Hilton-branded guest rooms — Conrad, LXR and Hilton Hotels, respectively.
One project that has been delayed by the pandemic is the unique MSG Sphere, the $1.66 billion, ball-shaped, 17,000-seat entertainment venue being built next to the Venetian. A collaboration between the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the project shut down in April and has yet to restart, and a new completion dated has not been set.