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Nevada Will Reopen Its Casinos On June 4, Governor Says

Cyclists stop to look at the fountains at the Caesars Palace hotel and casino on Tuesday on the Las Vegas Strip, which is empty of its normal crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Locher
Cyclists stop to look at the fountains at the Caesars Palace hotel and casino on Tuesday on the Las Vegas Strip, which is empty of its normal crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Casinos in Las Vegas and other Nevada cities can reopen next Thursday for the first time since the coronavirus forced the gaming industry to shut down more than two months ago, Gov. Steve Sisolak says. The state plans to revive its gaming industry nearly a week after it starts Phase 2 of its reopening this Friday.

"We continue to see a consistent and sustainable downward trajectory of percentage of positive COVID-19 cases and a decrease in the trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations," Sisolak said Tuesday night.

Casinos are forming plans that they hope will entice customers to return. As Nevada Public Radio reports, "Some casinos are offering free parking; others have done away with resort fees. Resorts have even been offering steep discounts on rooms."

The state's gaming industry has been idled since March 18, when Sisolak suspended all gaming operations. In the days leading up to that emergency order, many casinos, restaurants and bars on the Las Vegas Strip had already begun closing because of the coronavirus.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board will release more details on Wednesday about the reopening of casinos, Sisolak said.

The casinos will resume operations more than a month after Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called for restaurants, hotels and casinos to reopen, saying her city was caught in "a unique economic crisis."

Goodman did not have the authority to force a reopening. But she pushed for Las Vegas to be among the first to reopen, based on the idea that "competition would ultimately determine which were safest to visit and that only establishments with the most infections should be forced to close down," as NPR's Vanessa Romo reported.

A number of public gathering spots will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity during Nevada's Phase 2. This includes gyms, water parks and swimming pools. As long as safety precautions are followed, people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 50 people.

"It's very simple: When you are out in public, wear a mask or face covering, practice social distancing, and wash your hands," Sisolak said. Discussing the use of pools, he said, "Face coverings should not be worn in the water."

Nevada's positive test result rate has fallen to 6.5%, and the state is mostly surpassing its target of conducting 4,000 tests a day, the governor said. Hospitalizations of people who are confirmed to have COVID-19 are on a 35-day downward trend, he added.

Churches and other places of worship can reopen their doors during Phase 2, but they can only host a maximum of 50 people at a time, and congregants must stay at least 6 feet apart.

The governor encouraged all places of worship to provide online or virtual services as much as possible to protect their members.

Sisolak was slated to discuss the changes during a live news conference, but that plan was scrapped after his office learned that he may have recently been exposed to COVID-19.

"Last week, I was at a location where an employee, who was not there on the day I was, subsequently tested positive for COVID-19," the governor said. He added that he will be in quarantine until he gets the results of a COVID-19 test.

Sisolak urged people to wear masks or other face coverings when they leave their homes.

"Help protect your fellow Nevadans," he said. "Wear your face covering like a badge of honor."

Nevada's Phase 2 is expected to last for two or three weeks, depending on how the epidemic progresses. Businesses that remain closed include adult entertainment establishments, brothels and nightclubs.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.