Sands shuts Strip casinos as calls for federal bailout grow louder


sands-shuts-las-vegas-strip-casinos-coronavirusCasino operator Las Vegas Sands has belatedly joined the list of major operators who have decided to curtail operations on the Las Vegas Strip to reduce further spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

On Tuesday, Sands announced that it was closing its Venetian and Palazzo resorts in Las Vegas until at least April 1 “out of an abundance of caution and in line with recent guidance from federal and state governments” regarding limiting further spread of the coronavirus.

Sands president Rob Goldstein said “these are clearly challenging times for our country and our community” and the company’s “most important commitment is the one we have made to the health and safety of our team members and guests. Right now, the best way to fulfill that commitment is by asking people to not come to work.”

Goldstein acknowledged that while the company might “hope this closure is a short-term necessity, we are realistic that it may be a prolonged event.” Goldstein assured staff that the company was committed to paying them during the shutdown, that no layoffs or furloughs were being contemplated and the closure won’t affect employees’ health care eligibility.

Tuesday’s announcement marked an about-face from the company’s statement earlier in the week that it intended to keep its Vegas casinos open while cancelling certain on-property events, frequently disinfecting slot machines and closing a staff cafeteria to limit close contact.

Sands rivals MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts previously announced that they would close their Las Vegas Strip casinos on Tuesday. Other operators, including the fiscally challenged Caesars Entertainment, have decided to keep their gaming floors open, along with “select restaurants, bars, pools and shopping centers,” while closing their buffets.

Also staying open are Station Casinos properties, albeit with some ‘social distancing’ requirements. Phil Ruffin’s Treasure Island and Circus Circus properties are also keeping their doors open with similar sanitizing and distancing policies.

On Monday, the American Gaming Association, which represents both commercial and tribal gaming operators, issued a public plea for “elected leaders” to initiate “actions that provide liquidity to allow us to support employees.”

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) had put a figure on its members’ financial needs, asking the US House of Representatives to provide $18b in federal aid to help tribal casinos “continue paying all employee’s salaries and benefits.”

The $18b figure represents a 2% share of the $850b financial stimulus package proposed by President Trump on Tuesday, roughly equivalent to Native Americans’ share of the US population.

Trump and his administration have yet to speak publicly regarding the hospitality sector’s role in any federal bailout, but Trump has a vested interest in shifting some federal bucks their way. While Trump divested his casino holdings years ago, his organization runs the Trump International Hotel and Tower on the Strip in a partnership with Ruffin.