The “total devastation” of the Las Vegas economy


Cyclists on the Las Vegas Strip, empty on quarantine orders.

In the speedy wedding chapel Long live Las Vegas there will always be an Elvis. That there will be weddings again, remains to be seen. Owner Ron Decar has seen the business disappear overnight. Do not decay, disappear. In the last two months of closure due to the coronavirus, it has lost 600 weddings. Last Wednesday, Decar showed the modifications he has made in this classic Las Vegas establishment. It intends to reopen on the 15th, in accordance with the quarantine de-escalation phases in the State of Nevada. He has put stickers on the floor to measure the distance between the guests. They will sit two meters apart on the benches of the chapel. There will be disinfecting gel. Decar will continue to dress as Elvis, but with a mask. “We are in the business of bringing people together, not separating them,” he lamented.

The concept of normality in Las Vegas was already debatable before the pandemic. Normal, it is not. But the image of these days borders on the surreal. All casinos in the city are closed by order of the State. The few hotels that operate do not have services and operate at 5% of their capacity. The food is only served at home. The airport is deserted. On the famous Strip, the street of the hotels and casinos, families of residents ride their bikes with children halfway down the road.. Teens skateboard between casinos. There is no music, no fountains, and nothing to announce. It is as if someone had left a huge set, empty and silent in the middle of the desert.

Behind that set is brewing a economic catastrophe and possibly human. The Las Vegas region has two of Nevada’s three million residents. The Las Vegas Strip is the economic heart of the State. The city’s tourism authority estimates that 368,000 jobs (37%) depend on tourism. Las Vegas has 150,000 hotel beds (more than New York) with an average occupancy of 90%. Tourism generated $ 57.6 billion in 2018, 51% of southern Nevada’s GDP.

The entire city depends on activities that are paralyzed and, in addition, they will not return in the near future: hotels, restaurants, games and shows. What is a part of the economy in other places, in Las Vegas is the economy, without more. Alan Feldman, a former MGM executive and expert on International Gaming at the University of Nevada, calls it “total devastation”. “It is a complete closure. I try to take care of the words because I start to miss them. ‘Unprecedented’ is no longer valid. Is a destruction full of everything ”.

Ron Decar, in front of the Viva Las Vegas chapel, last Wednesday.

© P. X.
Ron Decar, in front of the Viva Las Vegas chapel, last Wednesday.

In the case of the Viva Las Vegas chapel, it depends 29% on international tourism to survive. Especially from Spain. I have married Alaska and Mario, dressed as Elvis, twice ”, says Decar. The couple of celebrities Spanish women got married in this chapel for their television program and since then it has been a very popular destination. Alaska and Mario appear in the street light. “This summer no Spaniards will comeHe laments. Nor Europeans in general. You have received $ 10,000 federal aid, but are aware that it is a patch. “Money is not going to take away people’s fear of traveling.”

The unemployment figures in the US are appalling. This week it has reached 14.7%. Las Vegas envies that number. Unemployment in Nevada has gone from 4% to 22% between February and May. 80% of the casualties are in the Las Vegas region. No one is spared from the situation. A spokeswoman for Caesars Entertainment details that 90% of its staff has gone home. “We are not generating income,” he says. Caesars is a tourism giant, owner of Caesar’s Palace and the Hotel Paris, among others. Of the 60,000 employees affiliated with the Las Vegas hospitality union, the Culinary Union, 98% are out of work, says their spokeswoman, Bethany Khan. Some major brands, such as Wynn, have agreed to pay the casualties, but most have not.

Molestina Rivera, a 57-year-old Dominican immigrant, works arranging rooms at the Bellagio hotel for $ 20 an hour. They sent her home on March 16 with two weeks pay. You have no savings and have received no income since then. “The Las Vegas unemployment office doesn’t answer the phone,” he complains. All his companions are the same. “I have stopped paying the rent and the car. I only pay for electricity and water, the essential thing to live ”. Rivera is eager to return to work, but on the other hand, he fears being in the first row of the infections. “People come from all over the world. We are more in danger because we are in the rooms all day, we touch the pillows and the sheets, we talk to the clients. ” The Culinary Union has asked all hotels to prioritize safety before reopening.

Molestina Rivera, an unemployed Bellagio worker, at her Las Vegas home.

© P. X.
Molestina Rivera, an unemployed Bellagio worker, at her Las Vegas home.

Rivera has started going for food at food Bank of the union. The lines of people like her are beginning to be seen all over Las Vegas. The three casinos in the Station chain have become food delivery centers while closed. Larry Scott, CEO of the NGO Three Square, who organizes these food deliveries, says that in the first days of the closing they took “hundreds of tons” of perishable food from the casinos. Then the non-perishable. “Now we no longer receive anything from them.” Food remains thanks to donations, for now. Three Square delivers more than 500 tons of food a week.

“The main change we’ve seen is in the brands of cars queuing to pick up food,” says Scott. “That tells you that all social classes are affected” According to Scott, there are 12% of people with difficulties finding food in Nevada. “Analyzes say it can go up to 14%. What we are going to see are many months in which the working poor will fall into severe poverty. ”

At Las Vegas Rescue Mission refuge Every day the most miserable face of Las Vegas, chronic homeless people, gathers to receive food and bed. Heather Enge, executive director of the organization, says they eat 1,000 meals a day. They saw the numbers go up in March, but they went down in April, because people started receiving federal aid. “In a couple of weeks the numbers will go up again,” he predicts. “Si am honest, none of us are more than a couple of pays from a different life” That’s what Las Vegas has been without income for two months.

The Las Vegas Strip, empty on May 5.

© Tom Donoghue (Europa Press)
The Las Vegas Strip, empty on May 5.

Recovering economic activity in Las Vegas goes through an inescapable condition: recover game. The rest of the economy cannot be lifted without that pillar. “Gambling is between 30% and 40% of the Strip business,” says former MGM executive Alan Feldman. “Good hotels and live shows exist for the game. No one else can afford to mount productions like this. ” How do you play without touching the cards, or the chips, or the dice, or sitting a few meters away, or without being able to see the other players’ faces? The entire economy of the city rests on an activity apparently incompatible with physical distancing. The Wynn casino hotel was the first to post a protocol on how you plan to reopen. Chips and slots will be disinfected. Seats will be removed. There will be disinfectant gel on the tables, guests will wear a mask …

But a poker timba with masks and disinfectant on the table is, at best, anti-cinematographic. The reality is that “the normal concept no longer exists,” says Feldman. “Casinos will have to think to what extent technology can be used to play video with a dealer, for example”. Feldman believes that you have to start “being creative” and imagine that future for the business. “There were also those who thought that newspaper readers would never give up on the paper experience,” says Feldman. “We have to do 20 years of innovation in the next 2 years.”

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