Experts make case for optimism

It looks like 2021 will be one of several shots in the arm for Las Vegas as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic — each shot building off each other as the gaming industry moves closer to normal as the year progresses.

The ending of 2020 has been a tough one for Las Vegas since casinos reopened June 4. The relocation of the National Finals Rodeo and surge in cases in California has slowed visitation and prompted casinos to shutter towers midweek. Even The Mirage will completely shut down weekdays starting Jan. 4.

That should start to change as more vaccines win federal approval in the first two months of 2021 and are distributed along with ones from Pfizer and Moderna already approved and being disseminated.

Most Americans are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the second quarter, which will coincide with the opening of $4.3 billion, 3,500-room Resorts World Las Vegas on the Strip.

By the fall, Allegiant Stadium will be open to NFL fans for the first time and that’s expected to bring 20,000 plus thousand fans during weekends from California, Denver, Kansas City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Washington.

By the end of 2021, convention business is expected to ramp up again with the Global Gaming Expo in October and even larger shows that bring in tens of thousands at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which has been expanded at a cost of nearly $1 billion and just awaiting large conventions to return.

Two veterans of the Las Vegas gaming industry who have seen its transformation and ups and downs over the decades remain optimistic about the recovery by the end of 2021 while admitting it will be a tough start to the year. They are Frank Schreck, the Las Vegas native and gaming attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; and Jeff Silver, gaming attorney with Dickinson Wright and former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board who has lived in Las Vegas since 1955.

“It’s going to be a rough several months before things start to normalize,” Silver said. “I’ve seen a lot of cycles go through town, but none as bad as this one. I’m very confident that Las Vegas and the hospitality industry in general is going to recover and probably by the end of 2021.”

The good news is when casinos reopened in June after a 2½ month shutdown, there was pent-up demand to return to Las Vegas, and that is expected again. That boost was without convention business and customers who typically come to town and spend more, Silver said.

“Unless the entire economy starts tanking and people don’t have any discretionary money to spend on entertainment, I see there’s going to be a definite flow of new business coming in,” Silver said. “The confidence of the consumer to congregate in groups is going to start increasing proportionally the more people that are vaccinated. I think we can see an exciting year-end, but things are going to have to build to that.”

Schreck said he’s optimistic as well and suggests the vaccine will help the most with people’s attitude toward flying. He expects the Strip to be closer to normal by the third and fourth quarter of 2021 and even stronger in 2022.

“We’ll bounce back,” Schreck said. “It’s a different type of damage than we suffered in 2009 through 2015 and 2016. By 2017 we were back to normal in terms of occupancy and 2018 we were back in terms of spend, and 2019 was a great year and then this happened.”

Schreck said the neighborhood casinos are fortunate to be faring better and that should continue based on the housing and commercial construction and other jobs that remain intact. Those casinos don’t have to rely on air travel that is down more than 50 percent to Las Vegas that will get a boost when Resorts World opens, he said.

“Resorts World has to be a nice shot in the arm to the Strip being a new property and somewhat unique. There’s going to be a lot of people that might not have otherwise come to Vegas come to Vegas to see it,” Schreck said. “I am just hopeful that the general psyche of COVID and success of the vaccine is going to be positive, and people feel comfortable traveling and in areas where there’s a lot of people.”

Silver said anything new will help bring in tourists. Resorts World along with Circa Las Vegas that officially opened its hotel Monday and Virgin Las Vegas that will open sometime in early 2021 create excitement, he said.

“Resorts World’s design is supposed to be what they called in the old Caesars Palace days an ‘Oh my gosh’ type of property where you walk in and see something you haven’t seen before,” Silver said. “Whenever you have things like that, it can drive the market back. It’s fortunate for Las Vegas that when they really need people to want to see something that there are new properties coming online to drive the market.”

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As for the expanded convention center, it will generate larger conventions and additional ones once people feel comfortable traveling, the attorneys said.

Silver said the paradigm of conventions and group meetings has been changed by the pandemic, saying even he has been working at home rather than the office since mid-March. But people are social animals and over time people will have to get together in person to hold conventions.

Convention goers will like the underground people movers under the convention center, and it will help whenever it is expanded to the Strip.

“If people find it’s easier to get around, there will be more people coming back and more conventions wanting to come here,” Schreck said. “It’s a tremendous addition. It’s coming at a time when we won’t be able to take advantage of it like we will a year from now.”

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