(CNN) — Detailed housekeeping checklists. Half-empty casinos. Reservations-only dining. No shows, nightclubs or sporting events. These are just some of the realities that travelers can expect when Las Vegas reopens for tourist traffic this week.
Put simply, Vegas will be back as of June 4, but it won’t look like the destination we know and love.
Like much of the country, the city effectively has been shut down to visitors since mid-March, an effort on the part of casino companies and local officials to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Now, after more than 70 days of locked resorts, shuttered restaurants, lap-less lap dances and a deserted Las Vegas Boulevard, Sin City is gearing up to lean into sin again — at least, as much debauchery as one can experience wearing a face mask, sanitizing hands regularly and standing or sitting six feet from everyone else.
A step toward “normalcy”
The famous sign welcomes motorists on the south end of the Las Vegas Strip.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
“We’re welcoming visitors back, but we’re going to take every precaution possible,” he said in an online briefing. “We’re encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time.”
That ad was produced by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the organization charged with marketing Southern Nevada and the same group that put together the famous “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” campaign. CEO Steve Hill said the idea behind the new ad is to reassure visitors that while Las Vegas might not look familiar, it’s still the same place.
“People think of Las Vegas as an escape, and it can still be an escape from what everyone has had to go through over the last two-and-a-half or three months,” said Hill. “Certain aspects of [Las Vegas] won’t necessarily be what you’re used to, but you’ll absolutely be able to come and have a great time.”
As Hill suggests, a restart in Las Vegas is a step toward “normalcy,” the return of a destination that epitomizes the independence, bravado and eclecticism of the American ideal.
Here’s a closer look at what a Vegas vacation might look like in the next couple of months.
Hotels restart gradually
New York-New York Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip is preparing to reopen.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Without question, the most important aspect of reopening Las Vegas is reopening the hotels — people who are visiting from outside the city obviously need places to stay. At last check there were roughly 150,000 hotel rooms around the Las Vegas Valley; only a fraction of these will open June 4.
On the Las Vegas Strip, the 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that runs from the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to Sahara Avenue, casinos to open June 4 will include New York-New York Hotel & Casino, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Bellagio, Caesars Palace, the Flamingo Las Vegas, the Venetian and Wynn Las Vegas.
Off-Strip, many Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming resorts are opening on the same date.
Derek Stevens, who owns both The D Las Vegas and the Golden Gate Casino downtown, will open his properties June 4 as well. Always a showman, on Wednesday Stevens offered 1,000 free one-way airplane tickets to Las Vegas to get visitors to return.
All the tickets were claimed on the D Las Vegas website within two hours, and when Stevens added another 1,000 free one-way tickets, they were also almost immediately snapped up.
“We knew there was a high demand for Las Vegas, and to see these flights book as quickly as they did is overwhelming and exciting,” said Stevens in a press release. “Whether people decide to visit my casinos or explore other parts of the city, this is a strong indicator of how Las Vegas can quickly be restored to its former glory.”
Rich Broome, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, said most companies are embracing a phased approach to gauge demand and minimize risk to employees.
“None of us has any idea what demand is going to be,” he said, noting that resorts and hotels that aren’t opening next week likely are taking reservations for stays starting July 1. “We’re starting slowly and will gradually go from there.”
All casino resorts will reopen with ample hand sanitizing stations throughout the properties. They also will give out free face masks (some even branded with company logos). Some, such as Bellagio and New York-New York, will have actual hand-washing stations with water and towels and soap. New signage will recommend that guests always wear masks, but the face coverings will not be required for visitors — just for employees.
Some resorts will embrace additional precautions. Wynn Resorts properties plan to use thermal imaging cameras at every entrance to intercept people with fevers. The Venetian has put together a team of 25 Emergency Medical Technicians to be on hand in case guests require immediate attention.
The pool party’s over; events like Flo Rida’s performance at Flamingo Las Vegas’ GO Pool Dayclub in May 2019 will not be returning anytime soon.
Denise Truscello/WireImage/Getty Images
Most hotels will reopen with pool access; some will have pool decks operating on reduced schedules. Though the raucous pool parties that Vegas is known for are probably not coming back anytime soon.
Two other pluses: Many hotels will roll out keyless entry programs to minimize queues at the check-in desk, and most will reopen with free parking — a longtime Vegas amenity that gradually disappeared over the course of the last two years.
On the flipside, nightclubs, shows and some spas will continue to be closed for the foreseeable future — part of an ongoing order from Sisolak designed to minimize risk, promote adequate social distancing and protect public health.
One of the biggest differences between pre- and post-pandemic Vegas will be in-room housekeeping protocols.
In the past, each company had its own set of rules. Now, all hotels must comply with procedural cleaning standards as provided by the Centers for Disease Control, Southern Nevada Health District, World Health Organization and the local gaming control board.
CNN’s Richard Quest goes inside the Four Seasons Hotel New York to see what steps they are taking to keep guests healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.
These new protocols include housekeepers refreshing all linens and glassware between stays, cleaning HVAC filters more frequently, and spending extra time wiping down high-touch surfaces such as telephones and television remotes.
John Flynn, vice president of administration at MGM Resorts, said after his company’s housekeeping staffers have cleaned a room, they will affix a sticker seal on the door, so guests know no-one has accessed the room since. Flynn, who heads up the company’s health and safety strategy, said that while this isn’t one of the specific requirements, MGM has opted to do it to help put customers’ minds at ease.
“We intend to go above and beyond to offer peace of mind,” he said. “We believe that collectively, we can still make a trip to Las Vegas a great experience and create lifelong memories.”
Casinos: a work in progress
A mock-up of a hand-washing station on the casino floor at the Bellagio in Las Vegas offers a glimpse at what visitors can expect.
Courtesy MGM International
Gamblers, take note: Las Vegas casinos are going to be unfamiliar territory for the foreseeable future.
Sure, the casino floor will still have your favorite games. Yes, there still will be opportunities to rake in jackpots. Odds will not change.
Overall, however, an effort to create distance between players will make the experience way less social, and, in some cases, new approaches to certain games will leave the environment feeling sterile.
Take craps, for instance. A standard craps table holds 14 players; seven on each end. Under new social distancing rules put out by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, casinos can have no more than three players at either end, for a total of six.
What’s more, casinos must limit crowds from gathering behind the person throwing the dice — a tradition that often results in cheers that can be heard echoing throughout the casino.
“You’ll still be able to play your favorite games in the casinos, but the scene will be different,” said Broome, from Caesars. “Safety is our No. 1 priority, and we’re going to do whatever we have to do keep it that way.”
Other table games will implement new rules. Blackjack, which usually seats six, will only allow three players at a time. Same with Pai Gow Poker. And roulette.
Casinos will likely staff fewer gaming pits.
In the slot department, casinos are either removing half of their slot machines or simply shutting half the machines off. During an interview with CNN earlier this month, Caesars CEO Tony Rodio said his company was planning to remove chairs in front of decommissioned slots so visitors wouldn’t even be tempted to sit down.
Howard Stutz, a longtime gambling journalist and executive editor of the CDC Gaming Reports news service, said that while casino policies seem a bit severe, executives are doing the best they can.
“It’s not like there’s a playbook for this,” said Stutz, who also is a frequent contributor to The Nevada Independent, a nonpartisan news outlet. “The biggest question they’re asking now is, simply, ‘Will people actually come?'”
To make potential visitors even more comfortable, some casinos were considering adding plexiglass and acrylic barriers to certain table games to protect dealers from players and players from each other.
Images from Bellagio showed craps tables with acrylic dividers between betting positions. Images from Wynn Las Vegas and the El Cortez (which is downtown) showed blackjack tables with translucent hockey-style partitions between bettors and dealer.
While casino executives said they would sanitize chips regularly, none offered firm details on how.
Another hot button issue that executives were still sorting out: Whether to ban smoking on the casino floor. This change can only be authorized by the Nevada legislature.
“It will be interesting to see how it all plays out,” Stutz said.
Restaurants open … if you dare
The Mayfair Supper Club opened at Bellagio Resort & Casino on New Year’s Eve 2019.
Courtesy The Mayfair Supper Club
Las Vegas has established itself as one of the hottest dining destinations in the United States.
Still, restaurant experiences over the next few weeks at restaurants inside and outside resorts will be different than anything Sin City has ever seen.
For starters, buffets are closed, and may ultimately be closed forever.
Next, walk ins are prohibited; all dine-in customers must make reservations in advance. Guests cannot dine in groups larger than five, and all diners must be from the same household or living unit.
Finally, dining rooms will be set in such a way that no table is closer than six feet from another table — even if the tables are outside.
Other dramatic changes at restaurants around town will include masked servers, disposable menus, and, at least at some eateries, utensil-and-napkin set-ups that are wrapped in plastic and certified to be clean.
Of course, every open restaurant also is selling food to-go, a strange sight at some of the higher-end joints in town.
Thankfully, one of the only parts of the Vegas dining scene that won’t change at all is the food itself.
This means visitors to Esther’s Kitchen, the award-winning restaurant in the Arts District near downtown, can enjoy signature pastas like always from Chef James Trees, who is a finalist for the 2020 James Beard Award in the category of Best Chef Southwest.
After being closed for roughly two months, Trees opened his restaurant May 15 for weekend dining only and said his staff is “raring to serve” visitors when they return.
“[The time away] was a chance for us to get back to basics,” he said. “People are seeking normalcy. If they can get it from a loaf of bread or a dish of pasta, that’s the most important thing we can do.”
For visitors who don’t want to fuss with individual reservations, tour companies are filling the void.
In response to demand for more socially distant dining, Finger Licking Foodie Tours earlier this month rolled out a self-guided tour that includes reservations at three different restaurants downtown.
The $79 experience includes one round of signature dishes at each eatery. Company President Donald Contursi said seating is limited only to those in the same party, and that participants receive a discount on additional food they wish to buy.
“[This is] a way for people to celebrate dining out again without breaking the bank and make them feel special after all they’ve been through,” he wrote in a recent email.
Attractions at a distance
Bright lights: The Las Vegas Neon Museum is committed to business as usual.
The Neon Museum
People love the attractions in Las Vegas, and those will be different, too.
Nightlife without shows and nightclubs will require visitors to be more creative on their own. Relaxing without use of the spa could create more anxiety than intended. Even shopping malls likely will open with different rules and hours.
ICEBAR, the frozen ice lounge at The LINQ Promenade on the Strip, planned to open in the first half of June. In addition to enhanced sanitization protocols and masks and gloves for staff, management has tripled the number of parkas on hand so each one may be thoroughly cleaned after use.
Other off-Strip attractions also appear committed to presenting visitors with a semblance of business as usual.
The Neon Museum, for example, which curates old neon signs and is mostly outdoors, reopened May 22 with new protocols that included screening visitors for fevers at the front door, limiting numbers to allow for social distancing, and wiping down frequently touched surfaces at least once an hour.
Guests who visit the downtown museum in the next few weeks can see the electrified Stardust sign, as well as four pieces by Tim Burton in an ongoing exhibit.
The Mob Museum, which is also downtown, is expecting to reopen May 31. There, visitors will be required to wear face masks, and each guest will receive a bottle of hand sanitizer with the price of admission.
Guests may opt for free rubber gloves or a stylus to use with some of the interactive exhibits.
All by myself: A near-deserted Fremont Street, after casinos were ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak in March is an unusual site.
The Fremont Street Experience, an outdoor mall in the heart of downtown, has been closed for more than two months, but CEO Patrick Hughes said the attraction will reopen in early June as well.
Hughes noted that crews will use a special disinfecting fog to sanitize surfaces twice a day, doing their best to keep the normally crowded area clean. He added that Fremont Street Experience will install temporary signage reminding visitors to take social distancing seriously.
“There’s the tagline previously of ‘We’ve always gone one louder,’ but now we’re going to be encouraging people to go one longer,” Hughes told the local NPR affiliate. “Whereas six feet distancing will be recommended, we’ll tell you to go seven feet just to go one longer.”
Even McCarran International Airport seems primed to get in on spreading public health awareness.
Last week the airport rolled out new guidelines vowing to use hospital-grade cleaning products on all high-touch surfaces and strongly suggesting that only ticketed passengers and employees enter terminals in order to minimize risk of exposure and spread.
“We understand that the airport and travel experience is going to be different from what people experienced before the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County director of aviation. “This campaign will help passengers understand the changes they will see and instill the confidence to feel they can still travel in a safe and healthy way.”
Arch rock formations at the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s first and oldest State Park, may be even more appealing to visitors during the coronavirus era.
George Rose/Getty Images
Perhaps the only part of the Las Vegas Valley that will feel semi-normal after June 4 is the great outdoors.
This is the ultimate destination for social distancing; with Spring Mountain National Recreation Area to the northwest, Red Rock National Conservation Area to the west, Lake Mead National Recreation Area to the south and Lake Las Vegas to the east, there are literally hundreds of thousands of acres of open space to explore within a one-hour drive of the Strip.
Add to this Valley of Fire State Park and Grand Canyon National Park farther afield, and — so long as you hydrate appropriately — it’s possible to visit Las Vegas and spend most of your time outside.
The new ad from the LVCVA embraces this fact, highlighting all the city’s “space” and showing clips of a fit couple hiking in the desert.
The emphasis is subtle, but it is a notable pivot. Steve Hill, the organization’s CEO, said that now is high time for regular visitors to Vegas to explore an aspect of the city they’ve never tried before.
“It’s never too late to get to know a new side of Las Vegas,” he said. “This is the chance to do just that.”
Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Northern California. He has written and updated 13 guidebooks about Las Vegas and has visited more than 130 times since 2003. He has no issue with playing three-handed Pai Gow. Learn more about him at whalehead.com.