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Gaming commission approves safety guidelines for casino reopenings

Michelle Rindels

The Nevada Independent

The marquee at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno includes a message telling people to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, March 19.
Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first published May 7 by The Nevada Independent and is republished here with permission. For more Nevada news, including wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage and a constantly updating live blog, visit The Nevada Independent.

The Nevada Gaming Commission has ratified a set of health and safety policies that casinos and other gaming licensees will have to follow when they reopen to the public from coronavirus-related closures that have lasted nearly two months so far.

In an hourlong videoconference meeting on Thursday, May 7, commissioners unanimously approved guidelines released May 1 by the Gaming Control Board.

The seven-page document included guidance — such as limiting the number of people around table games, increasing cleaning of high-touch items such as light switches, and keeping nightclubs closed — that casinos are recommended to have in reopening plans that must be approved by regulators. 

“These are examples and this is a fluid situation,” said Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan. “And with respect to the larger operators, I fully trust and think they’re in the best position to determine what works on their particular property.”

She also noted that guidance such as occupancy restrictions could relax in the future if health metrics move in a positive direction.

State officials have not set a date for when casinos might reopen, although Gov. Steve Sisolak has said they won’t reopen for “Phase 1” — a stage that will begin May 9.

The Culinary Union, which represents tens of thousands of casino workers, has recommended even more specific and stringent protocols for preventing the spread of COVID-19. The union wants buffets suspended, vacuuming replaced with steam cleaning, and high-touch items such as salt and pepper shakers replaced with disposable items.

Union officials are also calling for temperature screenings of guests and employees, company-provided masks and COVID-19 testing, and provisions that will allow workers to collect unemployment if they stay home from work while the coronavirus is still active in the state.

Lawyer and former Gaming Commission Chairman John O’Reilly, who submitted written public comment, urged commissioners to review all health and safety recommendations to determine whether they are truly necessary and cost-effective. He noted that many in the casino business are facing challenges that are insurmountable and will force them to leave the business.

O’Reilly asked that any policies adopted “will not exacerbate the existing challenges but rather will assist the industry and … be consistent with the statutory declaration of Nevada public policy that the gaming industry is vitally important to the economy of the state and the general welfare of its inhabitants.”

Other public commenters who submitted remarks urged regulators to make casinos smoke-free environments at this juncture — something they said would reduce the spread of the disease because smoking involves hand-to-mouth contact. And others called on the state to take special care to address problem gambling, which they said may be a greater problem as people struggling with addiction try to cope with the added financial and emotional stress from the pandemic.

One gaming commissioner, Deborah Fuetsch, implored casinos to be patient as regulators try to protect both patrons and employees from COVID-19 going forward.

“It is imperative that we have patience and trust in our board and its efforts,” she said. “Without that, we could face the consequences of spiked infection and further physical and economic impact.”

The Nevada Independent is a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. The following people or entities mentioned in this article are financial supporters: Culinary Workers Union – $7,450; Sandra Morgan – $100; and Steve Sisolak – $3,200.