Nevada Gaming Commission Approves Casino Reopening Policies, Advocates Demand More Precautions

Posted on: May 8, 2020, 03:33h. 

Last updated on: May 8, 2020, 10:34h.

The Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday unanimously okayed reopening policies for the state’s gaming venues despite pleas to extend the safeguards for player and worker safety, given the risk from coronavirus.

Nevada Gaming Commission Reopening Policies
Nevada Gaming Commission Acting Chairman John Moran was among the commissioners Thursday who approved policies for the eventual reopening of the state’s casinos. (Image: KLAS)

Commissioners thanked concerned individuals for their suggestions that were read into the record before the votes. But the officials said the over-arching reopening policies can be added to by individual gaming properties or casino companies when submitting their plans.

Among the letters was one from Alan Feldman, Distinguished Fellow at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, who formerly was an executive at MGM Resorts International. He raised concerns about problem gambling not being sufficiently discussed in the policies.

He pointed out that people were in isolation while complying with stay-at-home orders. Many are unemployed. Some have lost close friends or relatives from the pandemic.

Gambling may become an “escape” or a way to replace lost income, Feldman said. He wanted to see relevant “guidance” in the policies.

Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, additionally urged the commission to include language that would review current state policies on problem gambling, given that many people prone to excessive gaming are now “highly vulnerable.”

She also wanted to see messages from casinos urging responsible gaming. In addition, casinos should identify employees who are assigned responsible gaming duties, especially given that layoffs and reassignments took place at gaming venues, O’Hare said.

Time for Smoking Ban at Gaming Properties

Other people wanted to see a smoking ban at casinos. Jennifer Pearson, an assistant professor at the School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nevada, Reno, warned that smoking will increase the transmission of COVID-19. Casino players and guests would have to remove any face masks they could be wearing when they smoke.

Overall, people who smoke can be at higher risk for complications from coronavirus, smoke-free advocates told the commission.

The Culinary Union and some of its members further wanted to see increased safeguards to encourage worker and guest safety at casinos. The union also wants the casinos to make their individual reopening plans available to the public.

On another front, John O’Reilly, a Las Vegas attorney who formerly was a chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, advocated that current commissioners consider the use of national “best practices” rather than requirements on casinos in the policies. He asked, too, if there will be disciplinary action against gaming properties for violating the policies.

Another issue he raised is whether the policies could lead to tort claims in courts against casinos. He also questioned how long the policies will be in effect.

In response to the concerns, Nevada Gaming Commission Acting Chairman John Moran, who is an attorney in the state, acknowledged letters which raised concerns about safety.

All of us are on the same page on that,” Moran said about safety issues. The policies, he added, are “not chiseled in granite.” They can be “revised and modified.”

Another commissioner, Deborah J. Fuetsch, said reopening of casinos will be a “slow” process.

“Our situation is fluid,” Fuetsch added. “I’m absolutely in favor of moving forward.”

Commissioner Steven B. Cohen said the gambling sector and the entire state faces an “evolving situation,” given the pandemic, so the policies can be updated as the situation changes. “I’m really sure these are going to change,” he said.

Commission Policies Subject to Change

Sandra Douglass Morgan, chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board — which proposed the policies — also responded to concerns from letter writers. She said that some gaming properties will submit additional regulations in their reopening plans. She explained the commission document included “universal” policies for operations, ranging from small casinos to large venues.

Policies will be “subject to change,” Morgan said. She noted that health and other recommendations may evolve on the local, state, and federal levels.

Morgan added that in the policies, the board tried to offer “examples” and attempted not to be “too prescriptive.” One example is how the policy for large casinos recommends only three players at a blackjack table, four players at a roulette or poker table, and six players at a craps table.

Other parts of the policies deal with social distancing, disinfecting, and reduced number of guests at casinos.