Las Vegas threw open its doors to visitors again on June 4, and those who came streaming into the city's hotels and casinos were greeted with a whole new set of health protocols. Temperature checks, hand-sanitizing stations, plexiglass between players at gaming tables and six-foot social-distancing markings throughout properties reminded everyone of the evolving "new normal."
Face masks were a big part of the plan; they were worn by all employees and offered to all guests. At Caesars Palace, even the statues were wearing them.
A gondolier wears a mask at the Grand Canal Shoppes on June 4. His passengers did not. Photo Credit: Erik Kabik
Those guests, however, apparently did not get the message. No more than 20% of them, and probably a lot fewer, wore face coverings, according to David G. Schwartz, gaming historian, professor and associate vice provost at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who visited Bellagio and Caesars Palace during those first reopening days.
"It just doesn't seem that there's a lot of urgency," Schwartz said. "Casinos made masks available, but at least as far as I could see, they didn't have a lot of messaging explaining why people should wear masks. So that might be why people haven't really adopted them."
At a meeting of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board on June 9, Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners marketing firm, the LVCVA's advertising consultant, said he believes the fear of Covid-19 is going down as the number of visitors rises.
"Between the lockdown and the amount of time people were in [it], I think there's some sense of 'I can't live like this; I'm going to take my chances' that was going on out there," Vassiliadis told the board, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Ross Mollison, founder of Spiegelworld, with three Las Vegas-based productions, including "Absinthe" at Caesars Palace, said he noticed a greater percentage of guests wearing masks midweek than on the opening weekend.
While many come to Vegas to escape strict rules imposed by their home states, others embrace habits learned elsewhere.
"It's different when you travel to Asia," Mollison said. "People were wearing masks before this. There's more of a cultural understanding there; they've had several pandemics before. This is the first here, and it takes a while for that behavior to change and click in."
Bellagio's floors remind guests of six-foot social distancing recommendations.
Mollison, who is from Australia, said there is a real fear of pandemics in his country. "Here [in the U.S.], it seems like there's been areas that were hit less hard than somewhere like New York. When you come from New York, you put your mask on before you leave your house and you take it off when you have to. People got that there, but other parts of the country are different, I guess."
A spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment said the company is evaluating the implementation and acceptance of all health and safety directives, including wearing masks, social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing. Feedback from customers and employees is being taken into consideration, she said.
"Enforcement is a product of visual cues (e.g., ample signage), configuration of the gaming floor and other amenities, capacity restrictions, encouragement by employees and self-policing," the spokeswoman said. "We will continue to fine-tune our health and safety protocols, especially in these early days of reopening with significant changes to our operations."
All employees are wearing masks, the spokeswoman said, and masks are made available to all guests as they enter properties and at different locations in the resorts. "It's also important to note that we are working to optimize indoor airflow at our properties," she added.
"If I were a decision-maker, I would say we want to be on the side of being more stringent in case there is another flare-up," said Schwartz, the professor who is also a former director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV. "I don't think this is going to be the last outbreak of a virus in the future of humanity, so it's better to be more stringent than less."
Schwartz said he is confident the LVCVA, which released an ad on June 9 showing the Strip's lights being flipped on, will strike the right chord.
"The messaging should be something along the lines that Las Vegas is back in business and is a healthy place to visit and then make sure we're a healthy place to visit."