In 2020, land-based casinos all around the world were forced to shut down activities, to comply with lockdowns and social distancing measures imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19. After a few months, these venues were authorized to resume operations under severe restrictions, including limited capacity and distancing protocols.
But now, as COVID-19 cases decline and vaccinations increase, several Las Vegas casinos are loosening these restrictions; casino floors are set to return to a 50% occupancy limit and many venues on The Strip returned to 24-hour operations.
In Canada, the Ontario provincial government allowed casinos to reopen, and gambling venues in Alberta are expected to do so by the end of March. European casinos and gambling venues also benefited from the rise in vaccinations, as countries such as Poland already restarted operations. In the United Kingdom, the largest gambling market in Europe, sports betting venues and casinos are expected to reopen in April and May, respectively.
Casinos in Las Vegas had been operating at a limited 25% capacity since November, when they were allowed to increase the occupancy to 35% in February. But Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recently signed an emergency directive loosening the state’s health restrictions, allowing casinos to increase capacity from 35% to 50%. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, this led to big crowds flooding the Las Vegas Strip and casino floors in the first weekend following the announcement.
There’s been a perpetual pattern of rising interest in online betting, accelerated by the global pandemic. But can online casino live dealers really rival the Las Vegas experience?
Things that Cannot be Replicated
There are certain aspects of the real world casino that online betting establishments cannot replicate, however hard they try. As with video games, sights and sounds can be reproduced pretty accurately, but smell is a crucial part of triggering memory and, as any lover of old books will tell you, the electronic version just isn’t quite the same. That does cut both ways, of course. You’ll never have passive smoking when you’re playing from the comfort of your own home. You’ll also never suffer the tedium of traffic woe, or have to go without a drink because you’re driving home.
Today, October 1st, your MGM Resorts Mlife Rewards Tier Credits would typically reset to zero and your Tier Status would adjust to whatever tier you earned based from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020. That isn’t happening this year due to the COVID closures and precautions. Mlife has also changed this moving forward.
Mlife Rewards is extending your current Tier Status through January 31, 2022 (another full year and then some). It has also extended the current tier earning period through the end of December 2020, so you still have a chance to get to the next tier level if you desire.
MGM properties have every other slot machine turned off or disabled. At table games, they have plexiglas dividers between each player space as well as between the players and the dealer. They have similar plexiglas barriers in the poker room. I still felt the poker room was too crowded.
Caesars on the other hand has every slot machine on. They are expecting players to not use a machine next to another player, but they are not being proactive. I saw multiple instances of players playing and sitting next to each other, so that isn’t working. Caesars doesn’t have barriers at tables or in the poker room, either. They have removed seats to limit the number of players at each game. Caesars seems to be taking a more staff oriented approach. They have dealers wearing plastic face shields in addition to masks, but there is nothing separating players..
MGM has also installed hand washing stations around the casinos and has stands with free disposable masks and hand sanitizer near the entrances. I saw hand sanitizer available at Caesars properties, but not to the same extent as the MGM properties.
Check in lines and hotel lobbies were also very different. The Bellagio had a lot of space available to keep distanced while in the check in line. MGM Grand also had a lot of space. Neither place was crowded when I visited. The Flamingo check in line was a mess. They did create some space to keep the waiting line away from the check in counter, but the line continued across the lobby and down the hallway. People in line were much closer than 6 feet. There were no markings to indicate where people should stand in the extended line. It was a hazardous situation. It also created a road block if you were trying to get from the casino to the Spa Tower.
We each have our own personal risk tolerances. The situations at Caesars Palace and the Flamingo made me very uncomfortable. I was happy that I was not staying at either place. It would have made for a very stressful trip for me. Unless things change, I cannot recommend staying or playing at a Caesars property in Las Vegas until things get better.
On the other hand, my stay at the Bellagio was really good and relatively comfortable given the situation. I would readily stay at the Bellagio or another MGM property during the pandemic if necessary.
Many things are changing as casinos reopen during the COVID pandemic. The most important change right now is that you are going to need to wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth whenever you are inside a public area of the building. That means you need to be wearing it when in the casino, in the lobby, walking down the hotel hallway, in a public bathroom, at bars and restaurants, etc. That is a statewide mandate from Gov. Sisolak. The mandate also include public spaces outdoors where six feet of social distancing can be observed. That means you should wear it whenever you head out since you can’t guarantee that you’ll have six feet of space when walking down the Strip or on Fremont Street. The mandate goes a step further than what MGM and Caesars had already put into place require mask use, but only in a few areas.
There are limited exceptions for children 9 and under, individuals where wearing a mask would be a health or safety risk, when dining and drinking and when exercising or doing socially distanced recreational activities outside.
The new mask mandate actually simplifies a number of things. As a general rule, if you are staying at a resort you should be wearing a masks unless you are in your room with family.