Bleak casino, tourism reports showing Nevada shutdown impact - CityNews Toronto

Friday 29th May 2020

LAS VEGAS -- Bleak reports in Nevada are showing the economic impact of a full month of casino and business closures enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With most businesses and all gambling establishments shuttered statewide, monthly gambling tax revenues were down in April nearly 100% compared with a year ago, the Nevada Gaming Control Board said Friday.

Tourism officials tallied fewer than 107,000 visitors to Las Vegas in April, down 97% from the same month a year ago, when the city drew more than 3.5 million people.

"April will go down in history as the month that Nevada's casinos stopped, and the economic consequences will be felt for months, if not years, to come," said David Schwartz, gambling historian, professor and associate vice provost at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"The numbers were expected. But they demonstrate just how big an impact the coronavirus has had on Nevada tourism and gaming," Schwartz said.

The state unemployment rate, after hitting a record 28.2% in April, decreased to 24.9% last week, the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation said Friday. Almost 475,000 of nearly 496,000 initial claims that were filed this year came after casinos closed, the agency said.

Department chief Heather Korbulic told reporters that $2.1 billion in benefits have been paid out this year, and that payments began going out Wednesday to gig workers, contract workers and self-employed workers under a pandemic assistance program authorized by the federal government.

Nevada was one of the last states in the nation to begin the program. Korbulic said the jobless office had to start from scratch to create a system to process and pay non-traditional workers.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas reported Thursday that it handled fewer than 4% of the number of arriving and departing travellers it had in April 2019. One airline, Las Vegas-based Allegiant, carried just 199 passengers this April, compared with more than 198,000 a year ago.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, this week eased closure orders enacted to prevent groups of people from gathering and possibly spreading communicable COVID-19. The governor allowed a second wave of businesses including bars and health facilities to reopen Friday and raised from 10 to 50 the number of people allowed at social gatherings, including religious services.

He said gambling can resume June 4, under strict rules and oversight of gambling regulators, and casino companies began calling back some of their hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees.

Friday's casinos report by the Gaming Control Board showed the April month-long closure led to a 99.6% decrease in house winnings, compared with the same month a year ago.

A small amount of revenue came from mobile sports betting and interactive poker that weren't suspended during the months of April or May, board analyst Michael Lawton said.

Parts of a 48-page detailed monthly revenue report relating to race and sports books and card games were blacked out to protect confidentiality of an individual licensee's financial records, Lawton said.

Casino taxes make up about 18% of annual revenues for Nevada, second only to sales taxes -- which are also expected to be significantly lower because of business closures. Nevada has no personal income tax.

April's near-zero results were more dramatic compared with February, when casinos were riding a hot streak and reported a third straight month of $1 billion in house winnings.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in reporting the tourism tally, said its index of revenue per available room dropped 99% in its year-to-year comparison, from almost $119 per room in April 2019 to just $1 last month.

State health officials reported Friday that more than 8,200 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nevada, and 410 have died.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems can face severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Ken Ritter, The Associated Press

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