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Updated Feb. 22, 2021.
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 of 2020, and they subsequently led the way
in crafting the protocols that would be required for them to reopen. How they're adjusting now continues to be an indicator industrywide.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has loosened restrictions statewide, thanks to a reduction in the spread of Covid-19 and an increase in vaccine distribution. As of Feb. 15, venues can host gatherings of up to 35 percent or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Beginning March 15, venues can host conferences, conventions, trade shows, professional seminars or similar activities for more than 250 people, up to 1,000 attendees. Plans for large gatherings may now be submitted for government approval, although meetings may not take place until March 1 and must be granted approval by local and state authorities. Capacity limits for restaurants, bars, wineries, gyms, gaming floors,
arcades and theme parks have been increased to 35 percent. Meanwhile,
museums, art galleries, aquariums, zoos and retail stores can operate at
50 percent capacity.
If infection rates continue to decline, the governor intends to remove all state restrictions and allow county officials to determine capacities beginning May 1. Until then, nightclubs, dayclubs, karaoke and adult-entertainment venues must to remain closed. Assuming state mandates have been removed at that point, local officials will determine when those venues can resume operation and at what capacity. (Information on the Covid-19 restrictions and reopening plans of all 50 states can be found here.)
An updated version of the extensive document released this fall, the Nevada Guidelines for Safe Gatherings, provides detailed information about the requirements for meetings in a wide variety of venues and situations. The Large Gathering Venue Covid-19 Preparedness and Safety Plan includes instructions for how to submit the proposal for approval.
"I want to help relaunch our missed and needed convention business, including the World of Concrete convention taking place in Las Vegas this June," said Gov. Sisolak when announcing the loosened restrictions. "I want to see business travel to Nevada make a comeback, boosting our economy and putting folks back to work."
Most of the city's facilities are again open for business, each with its own set of health and safety protocols. Wynn Las Vegas was one of the first companies in the country to publicize such guidelines, in the form of its 23-page Health & Safety Plan,
released last April. Wynn has since completed construction of an on-site Covid-19 testing lab for its Las Vegas properties and has opened an on-site Covid-19 vaccination facility in the convention space at Encore, the hotel tower that has been closed to guests during the week. The facility is taking appointments for people deemed eligible under current state guidelines.
MGM Resorts International, as part of its Convene with Confidence plan, is partnering with CLEAR's Health Pass to offer on-site health screenings, and with Impact Health for rapid Covid-19 testing.
For its part, the Las Vegas Convention Center was the first facility in the state to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council Star accreditation. And Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, which is being renamed after former U.S. Senator Harry Reid, has outlined its extensive practices regarding sanitation and health screenings here.
Back to Business in Vegas
Las Vegas casinos began to welcome back visitors in June of last year and they've taken a phased approach since then. Their parent companies have gradually opened more properties as demand warrants, and more amenities within the resorts debuted based on demand and state restrictions.
For a city that thrives on tourism and large gatherings, restrictions have continued to be particularly challenging. But even without meetings and gambling, Las Vegas didn't entirely shut down when the casinos closed last year. In fact, construction on ongoing projects actually ramped up, allowing some properties to open ahead of schedule this fall.
Here’s a look at what’s open now and what current development promises to bring to the city over the coming months.
What’s Happening Now
The giants of the Strip have reopened all of their properties, but some have continued to operate on a limited schedule due to a shortage of demand. 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 dayclubs and nightclubs remain closed.
MGM Resorts International opened all of its properties worldwide as of October, 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, Mirage, New York New York, Park MGM and Nomad, and Vdara Hotel & Spa. Park MGM and Nomad opened together at the end of September as the Strip's first smoke-free casino resort.
MGM has continued to adjust hours and amenities based on demand. Midweek hotel operations were temporarily suspended at Mandalay Bay, Park MGM and the Mirage resorts in November, but the company will resume 24/7 operation of those properties on March 3.
"As we begin to see positive signs around the public’s sentiment about traveling, coupled with important progress on the vaccination front and decreasing Covid-19 case numbers, bringing Mandalay Bay, Park MGM and the Mirage back to full-week operations is an important step for us," said MGM Resorts’ CEO and president Bill Hornbuckle. "We remain optimistic about Las Vegas’ recovery and our ability to bring employees back to work as business volumes allow us to do so."
All Caesars Entertainment resorts are open. As of March 1, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino and Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino are resuming daily hotel operations and will no longer close midweek. The company's other Las Vegas properties are operating at reduced capacities, and include Bally’s, Caesars Palace, Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace, the Cromwell, Flamingo, Harrah's, the Linq Hotel + Experience, Paris, and the Linq Promenade, High Roller Observation Wheel, Fly Linq and Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck. Most amenities are open, with the exception of the nightclubs and most of the showrooms and theaters. Check with individual resorts for more details.
When the Cromwell reopened on Oct. 29, it did so as an adults-only property for guests 21 and older — the only adults-only hotel and casino on the Strip.
Wynn Las Vegas is open for business, along with the Wynn Spa and Salon, fitness center and resort pool. Wynn's adjacent Encore property and its restaurants remain closed during the week, but are open for guests on the weekends. Wynn's restaurants are open throughout the week on varying schedules; their hours of operation are posted here.
The Venetian and Palazzo are open, along with on-site attractions, such as the iconic singing gondoliers on the canals of the Venetian. The Venetian casino is operating, along with more than a dozen restaurants and several bars, the Canyon Ranch spa and Grand Canal Shoppes. But the Palazzo tower remains closed midweek. Reservations are no longer required at the restaurants but are highly recommended due to distancing requirements and limited capacities. Available amenities at the resort are detailed here.
A wide variety of off-Strip resorts are also operating, making the most of their facilities while adhering to state restrictions. Guests are welcome at the South Point Casino Resort, for instance, and its casino and most amenities are available, although many of the scheduled events at the on-site South Point Arena and Equestrian Center have been cancelled. The Mane Event VIII horse show is happening now without spectators, while two events that were scheduled for March — the American Vaulting Association Educational Symposium and the World Series of Team Roping Super Qualifier — will return in 2022.
Las Vegas Sands founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson passed away in January and has been succeeded by Rob Goldstein, formerly the president and COO of the company. Adelson had been in early discussions to sell the company's Las Vegas
properties — including the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Expo — in October, but the new leadership hasn't provided any updates on the possibility of a sale.
The city’s shutdown sped up the construction timeline for Circa,
the first new resort to be built in downtown Las Vegas since 1980. That
777-room, adults-only property opened Oct. 28. Unique features include a sportsbook
with a giant, 78-million-pixel screen; a year-round pool amphitheater, Stadium Swim,
with advanced sanitation and recirculation patterns; a two-story casino; and the tallest
hotel tower north of the Strip, at 458 feet. The 60th-floor Legacy Club is an 8,400-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue with 360-degree views of the city and a terrace with fire pits and eclectic music.
Although delayed, Eldorado Resorts' $17.3 billion buyout of Caesars Entertainment finally closed in late July 2020. The combined company — which retains the Caesars name — became the largest casino owner in the world, owning and operating more than 55 properties across 16 U.S. states, including eight resorts on the Strip. The company has a significant presence in Reno, Nev., and also owns licensing rights for properties in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Canada and Dubai, as well as a golf course in Macau.
The company’s newest facility in Las Vegas, Caesars Forum, was ready for business last April, but due to pandemic-related restrictions was only able to host its first gathering in late October, the ConferenceDirect annual partner meeting. A hybrid version of the event that originally was scheduled for last spring served to christen the new conference facility, with 130 people attending in person.
Last month, Caesars Forum hosted a 50-person satellite gathering to coincide with the PCMA Convening Leaders omnichannel annual meeting, and the facility will host Meeting Professionals International's WEC Vegas conference June 15-17, and Cvent Connect North America Aug. 1-4.
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 new home of the NFL's relocated Las Vegas Raiders, wrapped up construction on July 30 and hosted its first 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.
What’s Coming Soon
Construction is 99 percent complete on the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which will add the new West Hall and 1.4 million square feet to the facility’s footprint. The new space is being readied for the return of exhibitions, and currently has a temporary certificate of occupancy. The enhanced convention center complex now covers 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. At present, parts of the convention center are being used for a variety of purposes, including as a Covid-19 testing facility and vaccination site.
Finishing touches are being put on the Convention Center Loop, the underground transportation system being developed by Elon Musk's Boring Co. The innovative, $52.5 million endeavor is the company's first commercial project. Two tunnels are being constructed to connect the entire 200-acre convention center campus, which passengers will be able to traverse, for free, in less than two minutes, as they are zipped through the tunnels in electric Tesla vehicles. Plans call for the vehicles eventually to be autonomous, but they will have drivers to start. The Loop is expected to debut in conjunction with the first major trade show to take place when restrictions are eased.
In December, the Boring Co. revealed plans to expand the Loop throughout the city, in the form of a 10-mile route connecting the Strip with downtown Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport. An additional proposed loop would connect properties owned by Caesars Entertainment. According to the Vegas Loop proposal, conference attendees would be able to travel by Loop from the convention center to Mandalay Bay on the South end of the Strip in about three minutes.
The expansion plan was announced after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired the bankrupt Las Vegas Monorail and killed a noncompete clause that was previously in place for the Loop. The LVCVA has indicated it could restart monorail operations in May 2021, depending on demand.
A plan to rename McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid International Airport has been approved, honoring the former U.S. senator from Nevada. The airport's current namesake, Sen. Patrick McCarran, a U.S. senator from 1933 until 1954, was known for his contributions to aviation — but also his notorious anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic views. The change is expected to go into effect in a few months, after the Federal Aviation Administration processes the change.
Bellagio began remodeling its guest rooms this month, with a new contemporary design, upgraded in-room amenities, and updated bathrooms that feature natural stones like granite and marble. All 2,568 rooms will be redone, with the first available to guests beginning in April. The project will be completed this summer.
The massive $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas complex, on track to debut this summer, will 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. Resorts World has also partnered with Zouk Group to bring several outlets on-site, including the Zouk Nightclub, AYU Dayclub, RedTail social-gaming bar and FUHU, an Asian-influenced high-energy dining venue.
Resorts World has been showing off its high-tech, 100,000-square-foot LED screen since it debuted with a digital fireworks display last July. In December, the resort broadcast the 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo live from Texas on the screen, allowing passersby on the Strip to witness the action.
One project that has been delayed by the pandemic is the unique MSG Sphere, the 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 last April due to supply-chain issues and gradually resumed construction this fall. Some of the heaviest components should be lifted into place soon. The venue is now scheduled to debut in 2023, at a cost higher than its previously projected $1.66 billion price tag. The new cost will be subject to scheduling variables.