On April 29, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 15. At the same time, he gave responsibility for reopening Nevada casinos to the Gaming Control Board and Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan, while warning that casinos would not reopen until Phase 3 or Phase 4 of the state’s recovery plan. (Phase 1 began May 9.)
By April 30, Morgan was already deep in preparations. She spoke by phone that day with GGB Publisher Roger Gros, discussing how casinos would reopen, the rules they would operate under, and how those rules would be enforced.
GGB: Governor Sisolak, in his address to the state, said that reopening of the casinos would be determined by the Gaming Control Board. What does that process look like, in your understanding, anyway?
Sandra Douglass Morgan: We’ve been working diligently with state and local providers. I foresee the board, in short order, issuing a policy to non-restricted licensees, our large casinos, and then our restricted licensees, mainly our bars and taverns, as to what we would expect from a health and safety standpoint when they reopen.
I really have to publicly thank the University Medical Center. We had a chance to meet with Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an infectious disease physician there. We’ve also met with the Southern Nevada Health District, which covers Clark County and Las Vegas, and the Washoe County Health District, which covers Reno. They were kind enough to lend their expertise to review the policy and the guidance that we issue.
The guidance would require casinos to submit plans to confirm that their properties have been deep-cleaned and disinfected prior to opening, and ensuring that signage is posted so employees and patrons are reminded of proper hygiene. Employee training is obviously going to be very important to ensure that employees understand their responsibilities and knowledge of how to combat the spread of Covid-19—everything from hand-washing and sanitization (to) personal protective equipment, such as masks that may be recommended or even required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Can you envision a process that allows locals casinos to open first, with strict social distancing requirements and the things you just mentioned?
I don’t see a legal or regulatory basis for carving out one section of the city or county. I think we’ll set out guidelines and policy expectations, and those operators will have to make business decisions as to whether or not they can operate within these parameters. I don’t really foresee saying one section of a city is opening first. If they can meet the guidelines that we’re setting forth in a safe way, then they will be able to reopen.
Even though the non-restricted casino licenses are grouped together, there are some big size differences. I imagine there has to be some flexibility there when it comes to the larger and smaller casinos.
Absolutely. This is a fluid situation. Nobody knows everything about this virus, but we’re learning more about it every day. We have more than 2,000 unrestricted licensees, and I only have 400 people on staff.
So we do what we can, and we answer questions when we can, either by email or phone. I’m very, very proud of the Gaming Control Board—not only the board members, but all the employees as well.
How deeply are the regulators going to get involved here? Are these guidelines you’re issuing, or will they be strict regulations that will be enforced?
Remember, the ability for the Gaming Control Board to do this was under the governor’s emergency directive, so there is an enforcement mechanism. But I will be very blunt. This is a pandemic. No one has gone through this since 1918. Our goal is not to go out and arrest people; the goal is truly compliance. And compliance in this new reopening phase is going to look different.
You know, our enforcement officers and our agents are going to be looking at different things. Licensees are going to have to find different ways to operate. We definitely want to make sure that we have a presence, and that the Gaming Control Board is communicating with the properties.
Obviously, the policy of the state is to have a strict regulation for gaming; we will enforce it while allowing the industry to change and flourish and kind of find new ways to reopen. The goal is ultimately compliance. But yes, we will have enforcement ability for this.