A California man has been accused of submitting fraudulent loan applications to the federal coronavirus relief program and spending the money at gambling establishments in Las Vegas
Los Angeles (AFP) - Several major Las Vegas casinos said Wednesday they will reopen next week after being closed for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic -- welcome news for Nevada, which heavily relies on the massive gaming industry for its economic wellbeing.
The Bellagio, New York-New York, Caesars Palace and the Flamingo are some of the resorts that will open their doors on June 4, with strict social distancing practices in effect.
"We welcome the visitors from across the country to come here, to have a good time, no different than they did previously, but we're going to be cautious," Governor Steve Sisolak told reporters during a late night press call on Tuesday.
Sisolak said he made the decision to reopen the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry -- the bedrock of Nevada's economy -- following consultations with health experts.
"We've taken every precaution possible," said Sisolak, who had been due to make the announcement during a press conference that was cancelled over fears he may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus last week.
"I don't think you're going to find a safer place to come than Las Vegas by June 4, with the protocols that we've put in place, with the testing that we've put in place, with the contact tracing that will be in place by that time," the Democratic governor added.
"We're encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time."
The Gaming Control Board issued guidelines this month on the reopening of casinos, including limiting them to half-capacity and restricting to three the number of people at gaming tables.
It also recommended the removal of every other chair at slot machines to maintain safe social distancing margins.
Casino workers, however, have balked at returning to work without enhanced measures to protect them.
- 'Matter of life or death' -
"This is a matter of life-or-death for workers, and I urge everyone to proceed very deliberately and very carefully," the Culinary Union, which represents some 60,000 Las Vegas workers, said in a statement.
"Culinary Union members and other casino workers will become frontline workers because we are the ones who will interact with guests daily and frequently."
The union is demanding that workers who will be most exposed be tested regularly for coronavirus and given protective equipment if needed.
"What happens if someone who arrives in Vegas asymptomatic develops symptoms here and decides to hole up in their room for a couple of days instead of asking for medical attention?" the union said.
Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts' acting CEO and president, said the company will be following a set of protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus, including increased testing of employees, contactless check-in and digital menus.
"As we plan for these openings, the health and safety of our guests and employees is at the forefront of all we do," he said in a statement.
"Getting many of our employees back to work and welcoming guests through our doors once again will allow us to do what we do best -- entertain."
- Free flights -
In a bid to kickstart tourism, one Las Vegas casino owner Wednesday purchased 1,700 one-way tickets to the gambling hotspot from across the country, offering them for free to visitors.
"Obviously my team and I would like you to stay at one of our hotels -- but if you don't, that's alright too," said Derek Stevens, CEO of The D Hotel & Casino.
"Because Las Vegas needs you, our community needs you."
Sisolak said apart from casinos, churches and other places of worship can reopen, but they can only allow up to 50 people at a time and must comply with social distancing guidelines.
He also urged people to wear masks when outside their home.
"Help protect your fellow Nevadans," he said. "Wear your face covering like a badge of honor."
Businesses that will remain closed include adult entertainment establishments, brothels and nightclubs.
According to a report by consulting firm Applied Analysis for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, visitors spent $34.5 billion in southern Nevada in 2018, directly supporting more than 234,000 tourism jobs, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March.