Mass Arrests Escalate on Las Vegas Strip, Downtown as George Floyd Protests Continue

Posted on: June 1, 2020, 08:55h. 

Last updated on: June 2, 2020, 10:41h.

In just three days many Las Vegas gaming properties plan to reopen. But questions arose this weekend when initially peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent on the Strip and downtown with hundreds of arrests and multiple police officers left injured.

el cortez protest
Las Vegas police protect the El Cortez Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas Saturday night after protests became violent and officers released tear gas. Over the weekend, many officers were injured and hundreds of protesters were arrested. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Among the businesses damaged in the melee was the El Cortez Hotel and Casino. It is in downtown Las Vegas on East Fremont Street.

Police reportedly used tear gas and rubber bullets multiple times during the weekend to disperse crowds who refused to move despite repeated requests from Las Vegas officers. During the weekend, there were reports of Molotov cocktails being thrown to cause destruction.

Black Lives Matter-organized protests continued during the evening on Monday, June 1. Before sundown, police blocked an estimated 75 protesters from getting too close to the Trump Tower on Fashion Show Drive, off the Strip.

Protesters are recalling how Floyd died while in Minneapolis police custody, with an officer’s knee placed on his neck for eight minutes as he begged for his life. Three other officers at the scene failed to intervene.

‘No Hospitality for Hatred’

On Monday, MGM Resorts International — the largest casino employer on the Strip — issued a statement that condemned the “terrible acts in Minneapolis” and defended the “right to peaceful demonstration against abhorrent acts.

“There is no hospitality for hatred here and we will not accept it anywhere else…. Make no mistake, at MGM Resorts, we firmly believe that Black Lives Matter,” Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts acting CEO and president, said in part. “We also support the many first responders and law enforcement officials who act with integrity and courage.”

Sunday night’s protest, which started on the Strip, near Mandalay Bay, began peacefully. But it later turned disorderly as authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets when some of the hundreds of protesters refused to disperse. Police said 155 people were arrested during the Sunday night protests, with 148 cited for misdemeanors and seven arrested on felonies, KVVU TV, a local TV station, reported. Two officers suffered minor injuries.

On Saturday, protests took place in downtown Las Vegas. One window at the El Cortez Hotel and Casino was broken and graffiti was spray painted on exterior walls. The graffiti criticized police and recalled Floyd’s death, said KTNV, another local TV station.

“We understand the frustration, we feel the frustration, but it’s hard to see the El Cortez damaged. It’s our home and home to so many people in this community,” said Adam Wiesberg, the hotel-casino’s general manager, to the TV station.

“It was 99 percent peaceful, respectful. People trying to convey a very important message, but we just got caught in the crossfire,” Weisberg added. The casino still plans to reopen on Thursday.

Saturday’s downtown Las Vegas protests led to 103 arrests among the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 participant crowd. Police used several canisters of tear gas after protesters refused to disperse.

One protester hurled a cinder block at a Metropolitan police officer. Other officers were pelted with rocks. By the end of the night, 11 officers suffered injuries that ranged from abrasions to broken bones.

Another business, EZ Pawn on South Las Vegas Boulevard, was broken into and looted by some 50 or more suspects. Elsewhere, downtown store windows were broken, and cars vandalized. A police car was set ablaze, and two other cars were damaged along with government buildings, such as the federal courthouse.

Friday night’s protest took place on the Strip. It led to police arresting 80 protesters and resulted in 12 injured officers.

Friday’s demonstration began peacefully, with 200 to 300 protesters assembled at the Miracle Mile Shops near Las Vegas and Tropicana boulevards. After a few hours, a “group of agitators arrived to ratchet-up tensions. That is when officers ordered the crowd to disperse,” according to a police statement.

Following a Thursday night peaceful protest, on Friday police were struck by rocks. Property was damaged.

Protests Not Seen as Threat to Customer Safety

As of Sunday, there were no public indications casinos would delay planned reopenings on Thursday, June 4. “As of now, no,” Tommy J. Burns, a Nevada-based casino security consultant, told, when asked if properties could postpone opening their doors to players and visitors.

Extra security may be added, but I don’t believe the protests are a threat to customer safety,” Burns said on Sunday. “I don’t believe the protests will have an effect, but that may be a wait- and-see.”

Burns was the privacy officer at the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center after stints as security director at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel & Casino and The Flamingo Las Vegas, as well as a security director with Station Casinos’ Fiesta Henderson and Green Valley Ranch Resort. Earlier, he was police chief in Henderson, Nevada.

“I believe all the efforts will be directed towards ensuring guest safety as related to the [COVID-19] virus,” Burns said.

The virus forced the March closures of casinos in Nevada. Last month, they were given the go-ahead to reopen if there were sufficient health and safety safeguards.

Balancing Casino Reopenings with Rights of Protesters

Frank Rudy Cooper, William S. Boyd Professor of Law and Director, Program on Race, Gender, and Policing, at UNLV’s William S. Boyd School of Law, told, “I believe the interests of protesters and businesses can and should be balanced in a fair way.

“The opening of the casinos is obviously important to the economic livelihoods of many residents,” Cooper explained. “It seems reasonable to me that nonviolent protesters be given access to areas of The Strip and downtown that allow their message to be heard, but the police be allowed to gently disperse the crowds around sundown.”

Wholly preventing protesters from having their important message heard in places where it would gain attention seems unreasonable,” Cooper added. “The time, place, and manner of the protests could be limited, but not in ways that erase any value of the speech.”

“Attempts at preventing the protesters from demonstrating in an area the public is otherwise invited to frequent would likely spark anger,” Cooper advised. “That would embolden and empower fringe sub-groups within the protesters who want violence. It would be wise to support the nonviolent mass of the protesters by not seeming to be unreasonable.”

On Monday, A.G. Burnett, an attorney with Nevada’s McDonald Carano law firm and who formerly was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, additionally told, “I am sure the local, state, and county authorities are anticipating potential issues and working to address them.”

When David G. Schwartz, a UNLV academic administrator who has closely followed the history of Las Vegas gaming, was also asked about what effect the protests will have on the casinos, he told, “It’s hard to say what impact the protests could have on the reopenings.

This is now a doubly unprecedented scenario,” Schwartz said, referring to the demonstrations and the pandemic. “I don’t think there has been a situation quite like this before.”

Barry Jonas, a gaming analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey told CNBC, “Sustained protests certainly don’t help bring back a wider audience of leisure and group customers…. But we don’t see those segments returning in full force anytime soon, anyway, given coronavirus.”

David Katz, a gaming industry analyst at Jeffries, told CNBC that “The current circumstances are tragic and negative for any business that requires physical access — certainly casinos would be included.”

Casinos predict visitors who drive to gaming properties will represent most of their revenue for the immediate future, the report adds, especially given the reluctance nationwide of travelers to fly on planes and the cancellation of many conferences or conventions in Las Vegas by the pandemic.

A Welcome Back marketing campaign was to be launched in Las Vegas, CNBC also reported.

Reno Cleans Up After Downtown Destruction

Several Reno, Nevada casinos still apparently plan to reopen on Thursday despite scattered violence, looting, and vandalism this past weekend as protests went from being peaceful to destructive.

The Black Lives Matter-sponsored demonstration Saturday attracted 1,000 or more protesters.  Eventually, they made their way to the city’s police headquarters, where there was vandalism.

Later, protesters breached City Hall. A fire was set at the complex.

Tear gas was used to disperse crowds and a curfew was imposed Saturday night.

Late Saturday, Gov. Steve Sisolak activated the Nevada National Guard at the request of Reno officials. As of Saturday night, there were no reports of damage to Reno’s many casinos. Many are downtown, the area where violence broke out.