American Gaming Assn. Wants Congress To Shield Casinos from COVID Liabilities

Posted on: August 12, 2020, 11:59h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2020, 08:35h.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed a bill into law earlier this week that offered protections for casinos and other businesses from liabilities tied to coronavirus-related lawsuit. Now, the American Gaming Association (AGA) is ratcheting up efforts to get a similar bill passed on the federal level.

Nevada SB4 On Coronavirus Liabilities
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak displays his signature on Senate Bill 4, turning the bill into law during a virtual signing ceremony Tuesday. After its passage in the Nevada Legislature, the American Gaming Association called for Congress to pass a similar bill to protect casinos nationwide. (Image: Gov. Sisolak’s Office)

The Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 4 on Aug. 5 during a special session called by Sisolak to address COVID-19 liabilities, casino worker safety issues, unemployment reforms, and other matters. At Tuesday’s signing ceremony, Sisolak said the new law acknowledges that the hospitality industry is the primary economic engine for the state.

AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement on the same day that the bill helps the state and lets AGA members focus on rebuilding the economy. However, the COVID-19 crisis isn’t just exclusive to Nevada.

It is incumbent upon Congress and the administration to follow Nevada’s leadership and enact timely, targeted, and temporary liability relief provisions to safeguard responsible actors against frivolous lawsuits,” Miller said. “This protection is essential for businesses to continue to contribute to a safe and effective economic recovery from the pandemic.”

Those protections at the federal level could come in the next COVID-19 funding bill. However, talks on the bill are stalled, as House Democrats and Senate Republicans try to settle the differences in their bills.

More than 85 percent of the country’s tribal and commercial casinos have reopened. However, Miller said those casinos have resumed operations at reduced capacity, and have invested significantly for improved safety and sanitation.

“While we have worked diligently to safely reopen our doors and welcome our team members back to work, we remain concerned that already-suffering gaming businesses will be forced to defend against an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits,” he said.

Culinary Union Praises Law

While SB4 gave liability protections to Nevada casinos and other hospitality industry businesses, it also established guidelines for them to follow in order to protect workers.

Those guidelines were pushed by the Culinary Union, the largest labor group in Nevada, after the death of Adolfo Fernandez, a Caesars Entertainment employee who returned to work shortly after several Las Vegas Strip casinos reopened on June 4.

The new law requires casinos and hotels in Las Vegas and Reno to conduct daily room cleanings, enforce social distancing guidelines, provide COVID-19 testing for those returning to work or who have been exposed to the virus, and give paid time off to workers quarantined or awaiting test results.

The law also requires daily temperature and health screenings and calls for casinos and hotels to devise action plans in case an employee is exposed to the virus on the job.

“I feel happy and relieved that the bill has passed honoring my dad’s last wishes to have stronger safety guidelines for hospitality workers,” said Irma Fernandez, daughter of Adolfo Fernandez, in a statement. “I wish he was here in person to witness this. If my dad was here, he would be so happy and grateful of all the work that has been done to protect workers and their loved ones.”

The law covers all hotel and casino workers in the state’s two largest towns, including those who aren’t union members.

Double-Edged Sword for Vegas

Nevada’s casinos are experiencing a double whammy right now. Visitation is down significantly, but data from the state Department of Health and Human Services indicates that more out-of-state visitors are testing positive.

More than a million people visited Las Vegas in June, the first month casinos reopened. That’s down more than 70 percent from June 2019.

While July’s visitation numbers aren’t known, state health officials report that in less than a three-week span, the number of visitors testing positive increased by 182 percent.