As Las Vegas begins reopening in early June there will be the die-hards and those just looking for a good time that will show up the second the doors are thrown open. For much of the population however, Vegas has an image issue; people fear the crowds and potential spread of contagion. The casino resorts in Vegas are working hard on implementing new health and safety guidelines to try and reassure people that a Las Vegas vacation will not send you home with COVID-19 as a souvenir. For the initial phase of reopening, shows are remaining suspended, buffets will remain closed, restaurants and spas will have limited capacity and even some common resort amenities will remain off limits (i.e. valet service).
With the limitations on resort amenities and entertainment, we can expect that the initial patrons to Sin City will likely be focused on the gambling, but there are some drastic changes in store for the gaming floor as well. These changes, which are meant to promote cleanliness and encourage social distancing, will no doubt have an effect on the social interaction that is key to the gambling experience.
For slot players, the new social distancing measures will mostly mean that there will be a reduced variety of machines to choose from. To support social distancing, the Vegas casinos, including MGM properties, will disable every other machine to ensure patrons remain six feet apart. This will include removing the chairs that belong to these machines. On the upside, this means that slot players will enjoy a higher degree of personal space, but on the flipside they will no longer be able to enjoy the social aspect that comes with gambling. It is difficult to root for a big win for a friend or family member when you will need to stand at least six feet away.
This lack of social interaction and disabling of machines will also have a drastic impact on machines that feature progressives or group bonuses. With many of the machines disabled, progressives will not rise as quickly, and smaller progressives mean less appeal for these machines. For machines that offer a bonus to the entire group of players at a bank of slot machines, the lack of social interaction will diminish the attraction to play and the limited machine participation could mean smaller bonus round winnings. Even machines that aren’t dependent on group bonuses or progressives often attract crowds with their big wins or engaging bonus rounds or extra-large screens. With the capacity controlled nature of the reopening and the limitations of social distancing, there will be no crowds. This is like putting a limit on fun and excitement.
The social aspect of gambling, or now lack thereof, will have the biggest impact on table games. Some of the most popular table games operate the best when there is interaction between the players such as with craps and poker. This lack of interaction will most definitely have an impact on betting habits as well as the popularity of many games.
At all MGM properties opening in early June, the Poker Room will remain closed. Table games that are opening at Vegas casinos will need to adhere to social distancing standards. At Caesars Entertainment properties they have outlined that blackjack tables will be limited to 3 players, roulette tables limited to 4, and craps tables limited to 6. There is also strong wording in their new guidelines that indicates that crowds will not be allowed to gather around tables or individual players.
As another part of the new safety standards, there may be barriers separating the dealer from the players, and measures will be taken to reduce patron contact with dice, cards and chips. This lack of interaction with the dealers as well as key components to the game will likely frustrate table players and reduce the appeal of playing. No crowds cheering on your dice roll, no interaction with the dealers and no touching the cards or chips? This is essentially turning table-game play on its head and making it more like a virtual table game experience where an AI deals cards, tosses the dice or spins the wheel.
The initial reopening of Las Vegas will be capacity controlled, casinos will be limited to 50% of their gaming floor capacity. Because of these limitations, player promotions will remain unneeded during this first phase of reopening. Promotions and tournaments draw crowds and right now the Vegas casinos are essentially prohibited from having crowds. For players, this means limitations on, or the complete absence of, comps, freeplay, giveaways and more. As a player, whether you are a whale or more of a guppy, this may mean paying full price for rooms and meals which leaves you less money to devote to gambling.
Giveaways and tournaments not only draw in a large number of patrons, they instill a sense of excitement on the gaming floor, hundreds or even thousands of people all competing for the big prize. This air of excitement will be entirely absent in the post-COVID reopening of Las Vegas.
The new social distancing, cleaning standards and occupancy control being implemented in this first phase reopening of Las Vegas are necessary. But all of these new practices and guidelines have the potential to negatively effect the gambler’s experience. The lack of social distancing as well as the other limitations will most certainly impact both the time and money spent on the gaming floor. Only time will tell if reopening with this many restrictions will prove even remotely profitable or beneficial for the city of Las Vegas.