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Ho Dead, Vegas Casinos Target June 4 for Reopening, Carousel Group Hiring Spree

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
May/26/2020

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Free parking, but no valet service. Bartenders, blackjack dealers, and waiters wearing masks. Hand sanitizer everywhere.


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Yes, dice will roll, cards will be dealt and slot machines will beckon. But poker rooms? Closed. 

Tourists returning to Las Vegas will see changes since gambling stopped in mid-March for the first time ever to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The stakes could not be higher, said Robert Lang, executive director of the Brookings Mountain West think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

"Las Vegas can never be known as the place where people go and get sick," he said. 

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has set a tentative June 4 date for reopening casinos. The Democratic governor said in a statement Friday that Nevada has continued to see decreasing cases of the coronavirus and hospitalizations of COVID-19 when some restrictions began to be eased nearly two weeks ago. 

Sisolak's office said he plans to hold a news conference on Tuesday to offer more details about the next phase of reopening, assuming those positive trends continue through the Memorial Day weekend. Nevada's gambling regulators also plan to meet Tuesday and will consider reopening plans submitted from casinos, which need to be approved at least seven days before reopening. 

"We all know what we've gone through for the last 10 weeks. No one's having fun," said Bill Hornbuckle, acting chief executive and president of casino giant MGM Resorts International. "The simple idea that I could get out, come to a resort, lay at a pool, enjoy a nice dinner, sit at a blackjack table. There's something to be said for all of that." 

Many properties have aimed for an early June restart in the gambling mecca closed almost overnight in the middle of a hot streak — three consecutive $1 billion months in statewide casino winnings. The city had been drawing more than 40 million annual visitors. 

Once given the green light, the marquees and the managers will welcome people back to this 24/7 town built for crowds, excitement and excess. But not every resort amenity will be open. Nightclubs, dayclubs, buffets and large venues will remain closed. Cirque du Soleil shows will stay dark, at least for now. 

Signs everywhere will remind guests of new rules: Wash your hands; keep distance from others; limit your elevator ride to your sanitized room to just four people. 

"You're going to see a lot of social distancing," said Sean McBurney, general manager at Caesars Palace. "If there's crowding, it's every employee's responsibility to ensure there's social distancing." 

Dice will be disinfected between shooters, chips cleaned periodically and card decks changed frequently. At some resorts, guests will be encouraged to use cellphones for touchless check-in, as room keys, and to read restaurant menus. 

Wynn Resorts properties and The Venetian, owned by Las Vegas Sands, plan to use thermal imaging cameras at every entrance to intercept people with fevers. Smaller operators in Las Vegas and Reno will offer hand-sanitizer. 

"A gondola pilot wearing a face mask will be on board to steer the vessel," a Venetian protocol says. "Gondoliers stationed along the canal will serenade passengers from an appropriate distance." 

New state Gaming Control Board regulations require surfaces to be disinfected according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and "increased attention" to high-touch hotel items like television remote controls and light switches. 

Guests will get free masks at large resorts, but won't be forced to use them. For blackjack dealers, bellhops, reservation clerks, security guards, housekeepers and waiters, masks are mandatory. 

"That's the most visual thing. Every employee will be required to wear a mask," McBurney said. 

His footsteps echoed walking with a reporter past marble statues in the lobby toward a gilded casino vacant for the first time since it opened in 1966. A slot machine cried "Wheel of Fortune!" in the void. Seats on both sides of the game had been removed. 

"Visually, you'll still see a lot of color and activity, but you won't be able to play every machine," McBurney said. 

At the neighboring Bellagio, Hornbuckle showed new hand-washing stations installed where banks of slot machines were removed. His company is losing almost $10 million a day during the shutdown, he said. 

Other rules: four players only at roulette, six at craps. Plastic partitions will separate dealers from players and players from each other at the Bellagio, three at each table. 

MGM Resorts plans to open just two of its 10 Strip properties at first: Bellagio and New York-New York. 

Hornbuckle promised Bellagio's iconic dancing fountains will restart as soon as the governor sets a date. Still, just 1,200 of the hotel's 4,000 rooms will be rented and casinos will be limited to 50% of capacity. 

"You're going to see less people, by control and by design," he said. 

Caesars Entertainment plans to open Caesars Palace and the Flamingo Las Vegas at first, followed later by Harrah's Las Vegas and the casino floor at the LINQ hotel-casino. 

Lang called it unlikely that big crowds will return quickly, and said resort operators with deep pockets "will probably allow a bargain moment" until business improves. "First will be residents of Las Vegas. Then people getting here by car from California. Then domestic air flights. Then international," the researcher predicted. 

McBurney said that with nearly 4,000 rooms at Caesars Palace, he expected just one of six towers will be occupied. "Once people know there's an opening date ... demand will increase," he said. "How much? I can't speculate."

Casino Tycoon Dead at 98

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Macau gambling king Stanley Ho, who built a business empire from scratch in the former Portuguese colony and became one of Asia's richest men, died on Tuesday at the age of 98. 

The flamboyant tycoon, who loved to dance and advised his nearest and dearest to shun gambling, headed one of the world's most lucrative gaming businesses through his flagship firm, SJM Holdings, valued at about $6 billion. 

Shielded from challengers by a four-decade monopoly on gambling, Ho helped transform Macau from a sleepy peninsula dotted with seedy, windowless gambling dens into the world's biggest casino centre. 

But Ho's interests in Macau, on the coast of southeast China across the mouth of the Pearl River opposite Hong Kong, were not limited to the roulette wheels and baccarat tables. 

His privately held company, Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau, or STDM, has stakes in everything from luxury hotels to helicopters and horse racing. 

Ho lost his gambling monopoly in 2002 when Macau was opened up to competition, three years after the enclave returned to Chinese rule. STDM's main asset, SJM, is facing increasing competition from the other five licensed operators in Macau including U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Sands China. 

U.S. regulators said Ho was linked to triads, or criminal gangs, which he denied. However, Ho earned the adoration of many Hong Kong and Macau residents for his swashbuckling business style and his philanthropic work. 

He spearheaded what is known in Macau as the junket VIP system, whereby middlemen act on behalf of casinos by extending credit to gamblers and taking responsibility for collecting debts. 

Flitting between Hong Kong and Macau by helicopter, the dapper Ho loved tennis and ballroom dancing - his fourth wife was a dance teacher - well into his 80s. He courted the limelight and frequently graced the celebrity gossip columns. 

He had four wives and 17 known children, and was forced to restructure his business after a legal battle erupted within the family in 2012 over his fortune.

"POOR MAN" 

Born in Hong Kong in 1921 and related to the wealthy Ho Tung family of Chinese and European descent, Ho's privileged upbringing was short-lived. At 13, his father lost everything in the stock market and fled to Vietnam, abandoning his wife and children. 

Ho was determined to succeed and earned a place at the University of Hong Kong. Though World War Two intervened, his luck held. He left school and worked for seven days for the Air Raid Service Department before the Japanese captured Hong Kong. 

"I earned HK$10 out of the seven days ... then I went to Macau," he once told Reuters in an interview. 

"I was a very poor man," he said. "I started with only HK$10. That was my capital." 

He got a job with the Macau government, bartering goods with the Japanese. The experience led to his own trading company and he became a millionaire. 

In the early 1960s, he bid for the Macau gaming monopoly being offered by the Portuguese in its largely forgotten Asian outpost. 

Ho won the concession, built a harbour, added high-speed boats to lure Hong Kong's avid gamblers and created the cash cow that made his empire possible. 

As a result of the company restructuring that followed the family legal battle, Ho dropped off the ranks of Hong Kong's richest people for the first time in many years. 

Angela Leong, his fourth wife and a co-chairperson at SJM, has seen her net worth jump to $4.1 billion, according to Forbes. 

Some of Ho's children have become successful gaming operators in their own right. Daughter Pansy is the co-chairperson of MGM Resorts' Macau unit, while son Lawrence runs Melco Resorts & Entertainment. 

Among his other children, Josie, born to Ho's second wife, has forged a career as a movie star, appearing in the 2011 thriller "Contagion". 

SJM's most lavish casino, the 12-year-old Grand Lisboa, a 48-story building shaped like a lotus flower, remains one of Macau's most prominent destinations. 

But, ironically, the casino king did not gamble. 

"I have always told my children and my good friends: 'For God's sake, never gamble heavily and if you can avoid it, don't ever gamble'," he told the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1999. 

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- Chris Costigan, Gambling911.com Publisher

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