Travel 'Best day ever': Gamblers flock to downtown Las Vegas on first night of casino reopenings
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Goodlettsville Church recently donated thousands of dollars to three businesses in the communities where its members worship.Goodlettsville Church recently donated thousands of dollars to three businesses in the communities where its members worship, said the Rev. Tim Stutler, senior pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian congregation.
LAS VEGAS - Sergio Portesan's middle name is Elvis and he has a tattoo of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on his left bicep.
The 26-year-old Colorado man visits this gambling and entertainment mecca every chance he gets, the last time for his birthday in January, just weeks beforeas the coronavirus crisis deepened.
So no one was going to keep him from the reopening party that kicked off Wednesday — except his mother.
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She's a nurse in Minnesota, and Portesan wanted her blessing given continuing.
"I was like, if you tell me no, I'll cancel,'' Portesan said. "She's like, do it. It's important to you. It's historic. You'll never see it again. You're young and healthy.''
That's all he needed to hear. Portesan and his partner, Alex Loarca, hopped a Southwest Airlines flight from Denver to Las Vegas Wednesday and headed to downtown Las Vegas, becoming among the first to celebrate the reopening of thebecause .
The pair strolled an open-but-empty Fremont Street with masks on, before hitting happy hour at the Downtown Cocktail Room and, finally, the D Las Vegas casino right after it opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Loarca slid $1 into a "Quick Hit'' penny slot machine and quickly got the bonus, the holy grail for slot players of all budgets. It paid $2.17.
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After being closed for nearly three months, Las Vegas Strip hotels and casinos were getting ready to open their doors.Up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, from Wynn Las Vegas at the north end to New York-New York and MGM Grand on the south end, gamblers are sliding bills into slot machines and wagering chips at blackjack and roulette tables.
'I was there! 6-4-20'
The D, whose owner Derek Stevensto kick start the tourism recovery, treated the occasion like a cross between a grand opening and a New Year's Eve celebration. Hotel guests were treated to free champagne at check-in, and there was a ribbon cutting on the casino floor. On the ribbon: "I was there! 6-4-20 Re-opening Las Vegas!''
Bobbi Carlisle, a Phoenix truck driver, waited next to the ribbon 15 minutes before the casino opened in hopes of snagging a souvenir piece. An employee who recognized her as the first guest to check in that morning pulled a piece out of his suit jacket pocket and gave it to her as a belated birthday present.
She turned 60 in February and had to postpone the celebration in Las Vegas with her sister and daughter five times as the coronavirus crisis dragged on and.
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"It's just been months of us trying to get here,'' she said.
Carlisle almost missed this one, too. Her truck broke down in Oregon last week, so she had to rent a car to drive to Las Vegas to meet her family. They're staying for a week.
"Now we're here and we're so excited,'' she said. "We're hoping to get a keno machine and we'll play there for days.''
The D hotel, which offered room rates as low as $30 before resort fee on Wednesday night, wasn't sold out, but Stevens said bookings are building and there's a chance the hotel might sell out Saturday night.
The visitors coming this week tend to be Vegas fans and fanatics, he said, and are skewing younger because younger people may be more comfortable traveling right now given people who are older are in a higher-risk group for severe illness related to COVID-19.
"This will be a very fun, gregarious group,'' he said of this week's guests. "These are people that want to get out of their hometown and come visit Vegas.''
Vegas consumers, particularly gamblers, have been eager to resume traveling, in some cases quickly as casinos reopen, according to Jason Guggenheim, who leads Boston Consulting Group's global travel and tourism group.
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Travel search company Kayak saw a more than 100% surge in Las Vegas flight searches in late May the day after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the, though searches were still down more than 60% from a year ago.
Stevens is betting that the first visitors to return to Las Vegas will likely also bring more money than usual to spend on blackjack, craps, roulette and slot machines becausehave limited spending opportunities, he said.
"If you've been able to keep your job, you're still making your income but you've had no where to spend it,'' he said. "You can only do so much damage on DoorDash.''
Johnny Lujan, 29, flew in from Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon so he could gamble on the first night casinos reopened. He was last in Vegas the week casinos shut down in mid-March.
What brought him back?
"I love gambling,'' he said.
He beelined for a $15 roulette table the second the D Casino reopened and was scattering chips all over the place as the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling'' blared in the background.
Lujan did not wear a mask, nor did what appeared to be more than half of casino visitors, at least at the D. Visitors aren't required to wear masks, but employees must.
He said the temperature checks required of hotel guests and casino visitors at the D "felt kind of weird.'' Hotel policies vary, but the D on Wednesday was requiring temperature checks each time a guest or visitor entered the place. The Golden Nugget down the street was only taking hotel guests' temperatures at check-in.
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Overall, though, Lujan said he was thrilled to be back in town.
"Probably the best day ever, I think.''
Downtown Las Vegas got off to a slow start: Call off the Chippendales
With the casinos closed until midnight and most hotels now allowing check in until 3 p.m., downtown Las Vegas got off to a slow start on Wednesday.
The, a pedestrian mall with a giant overhead video canopy, tourist shops, outdoor bars and a zip line, opened in the morning but was deserted through sunset.
Kevin Kopec, vice president of attraction photography for Cashman Photo Enterprises, planned to open the company's large kiosk on Fremont Street Wednesday afternoon but decided to wait a day when visitors failed to show up.
"It's a ghost town,'' he said.
The kiosk offers photos with Chippendales models, and Kopec said he had to cancel them so the kiosk didn't lose money after being shuttered since mid-March.
"It's a high hourly cost to have a couple Chippendale models here,'' he said. "We're not in a position to lose any more money.''
George Floyd protests don't deter visitors from downtown Vegas
Another night of Black Lives Matter protests in support of, the unarmed Minnesota man who died in police custody, didn't scare Cary Reed and Debbie Fontenot from celebrating Las Vegas' reopening downtown.
The Louisiana couple, who stopped in Las Vegas on the way back from a funeral, arrived in Las Vegas Monday night. That's the night ain separate shooting incidents.
Nevada gamblers now required to wear masks at table games that have no barriers
The Nevada Gaming Control Board updated its health and safety policy for casinos on Wednesday, tightening rules for gamblers sitting down to play. "Licensees must require patrons to wear face coverings at table and card games if there is no barrier, partition, or shield between the dealer and each player," the board wrote in a notice to licensees. "This requirement applies to table and card game players, spectators, and any other person within 6 feet of any table or card game.
They were surprised to see the casinos still closed, so they decided to stay longer so they could gamble.
Fontenot said she was comforted by the lineup of law enforcement vehicles and officers outside their hotel, the Golden Nugget, on Wednesday evening during a downtown protest.
"I know I'm safe,'' she said."They're not going to come get us. We've got too much protection.''
Next up: The Strip reopens
With downtown casino hotels back online, travelers' attention will turn to the famed Las Vegas Strip, home to glittering casino resorts known around the world. Major casino companies includingand will start reopening Thursday morning. The famed Bellagio fountains will be turned back on, and the High Roller observation wheel will resume scenic rides.
If the experience downtown is any indication, they are likely to be packed given pent-up demand.
One downtown casino official said Wednesday night was like a normal Saturday night, as if the coronavirus shutdown had never occurred.
"Makes me wonder what Saturday night will be like.''
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The lights in Sin City won't be the same this year.Now three months later, Las Vegas has cautiously begun to reopen its hotel rooms, casinos, restaurants and other attractions like the High Roller observation wheel, with social distancing rules, rigorous cleaning standards, and face masks, which are now required by state law when out in public.