Nevada Gaming Control Board Explains Gov. Sisolak’s New Casino Occupancy Rules

Posted on: February 14, 2021, 04:57h. 

Last updated on: February 14, 2021, 01:03h.

Nevada gaming properties will see increased casino floor and entertainment capacity starting on Monday. The 35 percent occupancy cap on casino floors follows months of a 25 percent limit. In March, the casino floor cap will likely jump to 50 percent.

 Rules for larger casino gatherings are more complex.
J. Brin Gibson, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, shown here. He will lead the effort to implement Gov. Steve Sisolak’s new easing of restrictions on crowd sizes at casinos. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Also, guidelines impacting casino showrooms were announced by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) on Thursday, and later explained to by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB).

“Public gatherings that were limited to 50 people can go to 100 individuals, or 35 percent fire code capacity, starting Monday,” Michael Lawton, a senior research analyst at the NGCB, said in an email. “The number jumps to 250 individuals, or 50 percent of fire code capacity, on March 15.”

He explained that there is not a standard size for casino showrooms. The rules for even larger casino gatherings are more complex.

“Beginning March 1st, large gatherings will be capped at 20 percent of total fixed seated capacity, with strict social distancing requirements,” Lawton said.

“Venues associated with gaming licensees must submit plans to their local health districts for approval prior to submission to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for final approval,” Lawton explained.

Most shows at Nevada casinos were canceled as the capacity restrictions were ordered lower last year by Sisolak. They were made even lower in November.

Gaming Control Board Conducts Inspections

Meanwhile, the NGCB continues to conduct inspections at gaming properties. Between June 4, 2020 and Friday, the NGCB has conducted 23,560 health and safety inspections of Nevada’s licensed gaming properties, Lawton said.

From last March 12 through last week, the NGCB  spent 92,611 hours on COVID-19 responses. “These inspections will continue,” Lawton said.

Casinos need to cooperate in the process. Gaming properties must “continue to comply with … [Gov. Sisolak’s] directive,” Lawton said. “The Governor’s Office will be releasing large gathering plan approval guidelines in the coming days.”

As of May 1, decisions about COVID-19 restrictions mostly will be left to local communities under the governor’s current scenario. In the case of gaming properties, local leaders will work with the NGCB and the Nevada Gaming Commission to set guidelines, Sisolak said last week.

Also, in January, Sisolak said Nevada will prioritize frontline casino and hospitality employees as essential workers for COVID-19 vaccines. “However, it’s still unclear where the workforce will fall in the current vaccination schedule,” Lawton said.

Casino operators continue to await more details on Sisolak’s directives, but sound pleased with the easing of restrictions.

“We are encouraged by the progress in easing Nevada’s capacity restrictions, and will continue to follow Governor Sisolak’s directives, expanding capacity when and where it is possible,” a Caesars Entertainment spokesperson told on Friday.

“Our focus remains on the well-being of our team members, guests, and the communities we serve,” the Caesars’ statement adds. “We are optimistic for the future and fully committed to assisting the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Nevada and every community in which we operate.”

Sisolak Walks a Tightrope

When asked about Sisolak’s new guidelines, Stephen M. Miller, director at UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told that Sisolak saying he is walking a “tightrope” is a “good analogy.

“And in the political world, the governor is performing without a net,” added Miller, who is also an economist. He additionally encouraged Nevada residents to get COVID-19 vaccines.

Miller further explained that in the field of economics, decisions are made at the margin to optimize outcomes. Typically, marginal benefits are balanced with the marginal costs.

“The governor’s team is trying to find the trade-off that optimizes the social good,” Miller added. “By opening up [occupancy levels], economic benefits improve, but public health costs will surely rise.”

Increasing casino floor capacity from the current level of 25 percent to 35 percent, and later to 50 percent, were “calculated to achieve the best improvement in the economy with the least damage to public health in the short run,” Miller said.

“But as everyone can realize, the uncertainties and unknowns when implementing such policy decisions are troublingly high.”

As of Saturday, Nevada saw 31 new COVID-19-related deaths and 813 new coronavirus cases. Numbers of cases are improved in the state compared to some earlier rates, Sisolak said.

So far, Nevada has administered about 390,000 doses of the vaccine. These include first and second doses.