Sisolak orders statewide shutdown of casinos, other nonessential businesses

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Steve Marcus

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak responds to a question during a news conference at the Sawyer State Building in Las Vegas,Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Sisolak ordered a monthlong closure of casinos and other non-essential businesses in order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Published Tue, Mar 17, 2020 (3:29 p.m.)

Updated Tue, Mar 17, 2020 (8 p.m.)

All of the slot machines in Nevada were ordered by the state to be turned off at midnight Tuesday. Twelve hours later, at noon Wednesday, the state’s casinos will also temporarily be shuttered.

In an unprecedented act Tuesday evening, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos and all other nonessential businesses in Nevada to close for 30 days to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected 55 people statewide, including one person who died in Clark County. The global crisis has claimed the lives of almost 8,000 people with nearly 200,000 infections.

“What are you willing to do to save your life and the life of the ones you love?” Sisolak said. “Please take this seriously. Please stay home for Nevada.”

Nonessential businesses such as dine-in restaurants, gyms, bars and malls will be closed for 30 days. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, hardware stores and businesses offering takeout food will remain open.

Sisolak, in consultation with medical experts, federal officials and business and labor leaders, will determine after 30 days whether to lift the order.

“I know this directive will cause many of our friends and neighbors to distress,” Sisolak said. “But I ask you: What are you willing to do to save your own life and the lives of those you love? We absolutely must take this step for every Nevadan’s health and safety. Please take this seriously. Lives are at stake, and with each passing day, this pandemic is growing. Please, stay home for Nevada.”

A number of casino-resort companies, including MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, had already announced temporary closures on the Strip. Sisolak’s order ensures the closures of others that had not, including Caesars Entertainment and Station Casinos. Caesars, which has closed casinos in other states, said it was waiting for orders from the state.

“It has become clear that we must take this extreme action to help contain the virus and protect the safety and well-being of our team members and guests,” Caesars Entertainment CEO Tony Rodio said in a statement after Sisolak’s announcement.

“Although this is a devastating time for our country and our community, I’m confident the Las Vegas resiliency will allow us to rise again, stronger than ever,” said Derek Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas and Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas.

Sisolak’s move is similar to those taken in at least 10 other states, including New York, California, Ohio and Michigan, in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

Prior to the governor’s announcement, the city of Reno had ordered bars, nightclubs, restaurants and gyms to close by 5 p.m. Friday but had not included casinos in the directive.

Sisolak on Sunday ordered all K-12 schools in Nevada closed through April 6. But he said Tuesday more actions were needed.

“We have watched it become increasingly clear that there is need for additional measures for social distancing for containment of the virus,” he said.

The closures mean tens of thousands, especially in the service industry, will be without work or will see a loss of income. Some companies, such as Wynn Resorts, will pay employees for 30 days. Other employees won’t be as fortunate, which could bring hardship to many Las Vegas families.

“The Culinary Union supports the decision made by Governor Sisolak to protect working families in Nevada. Health and safety are priorities as we face this global crisis,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

Utility companies announced late last week that they would not shut off electricity, gas or water service for nonpayment during the outbreak. The Las Vegas Justice Court is suspending eviction proceedings effective Tuesday for at least 30 days.

Many properties, mostly neighborhood casinos off the Strip, remained opened until the order, issuing letters to patrons about how they’ve increased cleaning and sanitation efforts in the name of safety. Tuesday, Sisolak made the decision to take the ultimate step.

“The people who work so hard to make our city what it is are hurting right now,” said U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. “I will do everything in my power to help them. ... Governor Sisolak’s decision was difficult, but necessary. Las Vegas is a resilient city. We’ve proven that before and soon we will prove it once again.”

After Sisolak’s announcement, the American Gaming Association reiterated its call for the federal government to provide assistance to the casino industry. “Nevada is the epicenter of the resilient American gaming industry. The federal government must act swiftly to bring relief to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues in Nevada and all across America whose livelihoods have been severely impacted by these hard but necessary actions,” the association said in a statement.

Sisolak praised local groups for already coming together in the coronavirus crisis. The Clark County School District has established 28 serving stations for students to be fed breakfast and lunch while classes are canceled, and the YMCA of Southern Nevada partnered with Three Square food bank to provide evening meals.

“I know the impacts of this decision will reach far and wide into the homes and lives of our Nevada families,” Sisolak said. “This was not an easy decision to make. But in the last few days, groups and entities across Nevada have stepped up. Their efforts during this difficult time will make this storm easier to weather.”

For businesses staying open, Sisolak urged hiring those displaced workers, saying “delivery services will need drivers. Call centers need people to handle increased volume. Stores need people to restock shelves.”

The bottom line, though, Sisolak said, was not about what the costs were to residents, businesses or the state treasury; instead it’s about Nevadans’ lives.

He reminded Nevadans that time off from work did not mean they were free to gather socially.

“Many of you will not be in your office or at work over the next few weeks. This is not a vacation and it’s not the time to catch up with friends. It’s definitely not the time to go to the movies. Every social contact increases your risk of exposure. The bigger the group, the higher your risk,” he said.

His order, he said, had a singular aim.

“My ultimate goal here is to come together as Nevadans to save lives,” Sisolak said. “That requires aggressive strategies aimed at mitigating community spread.”

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