Nevada Gaming Control Board Prepares to Reopen Casinos

The Nugget Casino and Diner in Reno on May 26, 2020 - photo: Brian Bahouth

Updated May 27, 2020 at 1:42 p.m. –

On April 29, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, under Declaration of Emergency Directive 016, said gaming operations in the state may not resume until the Nevada Gaming Control Board [NGCB] deems it is safe to do so. The Directive also requires the Gaming Control Board to create policies to “effectuate a safe, measured, and incremental resumption of gaming operations.”

Based on a statement from Governor Sisolak last Friday, Nevada casinos will be able to open as soon as June 4, and the NGCB held a workshop on May 26 to consider recommendations from public health experts before issuing final recommendations to gaming licensees.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board issued Health and Safety Policies For Resumption of Gaming Operations on May 27, 2020. The Board issued guidance for restricted and nonrestricted licensees.

Caleb Cage is Nevada’s newly appointed COVID-19 response director and had good news for the Board. Cage said the COVID-19 test positivity rate for the state was 12.2 percent on April 24, and yesterday it was down to 6.9 percent.

“We have a 30 day trend of decrease in percent-positive in the State of Nevada, and that is driving decisions here at the state level,” Cage said via Zoom.

In the context of a receding virus, gaming operators are making preparations to open on June 4 under the Governor’s Directive, but they must first submit a plan of operation to the NGCB for approval at least 7 days before the proposed reopening.

What’s at Stake?

According to the Nevada Gaming Commission, during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2019, Nevada’s nonrestricted gaming licensees that grossed more than $1 million in gaming receipts generated a total $24.5 billion in revenue. $8.8 billion or 35.7 percent of total revenues were generated from gaming activities. Nevada’s nonrestricted licensees employed as many as 162,066 people before the pandemic.

The Silver Legacy Casino in Reno is closed on May 26, 2020 – photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

On May 1, the Gaming Control Board issued a Health and Safety Policy for the Resumption of Gaming Operations for Nonrestricted Licensees to help casino resorts prepare.

Guidelines included limiting casino occupancy to half their fire-rated capacity. The number of people at table games is limited to three. The Control Board suggested the removal of every other chair from in front of slot machines to maintain safe social distancing margins and constant cleaning and disinfection in accordance with CDC guidelines.

During today’s meeting, NGCB Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan said that the Board will issue clear directives to the state’s 290 nonrestricted licensees no later than Wednesday May 27.

The CEO of Renown Health Anthony Slonim gave the Board a brief history of the nonprofit hospital and an update on testing and treatment capabilities. Dr. Slonim said the COVID-19 ward constructed in the hospital’s parking structure has not been needed but will remain in place until the fall as a precautionary measure.

Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority or REMSA is a nonprofit corporation based in Reno that provides 9-1-1 response and transport to citizens in the Truckee Meadows region. With more than 500 employees, REMSA operates in urban and rural parts of northern Nevada and nearby California. REMSA President and CEO Dean Dow gave an overview of REMSA’s services for Board members.

Details about reopening protocols came from Las Vegas health officials.

The New Casino Guest Experience

Fermin Leguen is district health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District and today, via Zoom, offered recommendations for reopening casinos in Nevada.

According to Leguen, casino resort staff will give every guest a COVID-19 Prevention Card written in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Resort staff will take the temperature of guests as they arrive. Guests will be asked to complete a daily online COVID-19 Screening Report thereafter.

Upon arrival, guests will be issued a mask.

“We strongly recommend for guests and employees to wear facial coverings or masks at the facilities’ public places,” Dr. Leguen said.

Leguen said employee testing will be done systematically. He recommended that employees take their temperatures every day and that they be tested for the novel coronavirus every 2 weeks for the first month and then monthly after that.

Mason Van Houweling is chief executive officer at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas and outlined the assessment and testing of guests for the Board.

If a guest has a temperature above 100.4 or is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, Van Houweling recommended that they be allowed to cool down for 15 minutes or so before having their temperature taken again. If their temperature is still above the threshold, Van Houweling said that they should then be directed to a secondary screening room where guests can be isolated and further assessed.

Some casino resorts have medical staff, but Doctor Van Houweling recommended that trained EMS technicians be stationed in casinos to gather basic vital signs to assist a telemedicine doctor determine if a COVID-19 test is needed. According to Van Houweling, emergency medical services providers in Las Vegas and northern Nevada have been consulted on the plan.

For accuracy and speed of results, Dr. Van Houweling recommended the polymerase chain reaction or PCR test be the only test used. Upon arrival of the sample, results can be delivered in 15 to 20 minutes with a better than 90 percent degree of accuracy.

PCR testing is available in the Las Vegas and Reno areas.

What if a Visitor Tests Positive for COVID-19?

If a guest tests positive for COVID-19, they need to be quarantined for 14 days and medically managed.

“We have up to approximately, approaching 10 properties out there [in the Las Vegas area] that have agreed to accept positive guests for lodging services, if a patient or guest or visitor is identified as a COVID-19-positive patient,” Van Houweling said.

REMSA President and CEO Dean Dow told the Gaming Control Board that the logistics for lodging COVID-19-positive guests in the Reno/Sparks area has been arranged as well.

NGCB Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan was clear during today’s meeting that the details of casino reopening plans are not public documents: which casinos will open and under what terms will not be known until an NGCB ruling has been made.


Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally. He has been a public media journalist since 1994 and has lived in Reno since 2000. He first came to northern Nevada to be news director at KUNR, Reno Public Radio and has subsequently filed scores of reports for National Public Radio, Nevada Public Radio, Capital Public Radio and KVMR in Nevada City, California. He is co-founder of KNVC community radio in Carson City. Support his work.