BULLHEAD CITY — Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday ordered the closure of Nevada’s trademark casinos, an announcement that reverberated on both sides of the Colorado River.
“This is affecting the lives of our citizens. People are dying. Every day that is delayed here, I’m losing a dozen people on the back end that are going to die as a result of this,” Sisolak said at a news conference Tuesday night.
Sisolak ordered a monthlong freeze on gambling, shutting down everything from the famous casino resorts to slot machines found in convenience stores, cutting off an industry that fuels the state’s tourism and hospitality-powered economy.
Bullhead City officials, who were gathered for a city council meeting, were quick to react.
“There are 8,000 Bullhead City residents that could be impacted,” said Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter when he found out the order likely was to occur. An estimated 8,000 employees of the casinos and their associated properties live in the Arizona side of the river.
Mayor Tom Brady commented that “with the casinos shutting down, there will be people unable to pay their rents.”
Bullhead City’s economy also is dependent on tourism, much of it generated by the lure of the casino resorts in Laughlin that offer not only gaming and lodging but entertainment, dining and other activities.
Laughlin properties reacted quickly but quietly.
“Following the direction from the governor of Nevada, we are suspending operations,” said a message on the Aquarius Casino Resort’s Facebook page. “Our casino will close at midnight (Tuesday night), our restaurants will close at noon (Wednesday) and our hotel will close at 11 a.m. on Thursday. We will reopen as soon as we are permitted and when we do, we look forward to providing the same incredible service, entertainment and river fun that make Aquarius and Laughlin great.”
Sisolak’s broad directive also includes the monthlong closure of nonessential businesses like bars, movie theaters and gyms at noon today. Restaurants must shutter their dining rooms and offer only takeout or delivery.
“No dine-in at food establishments should be allowed until further notice,” Sisolak said. “This also includes food courts, coffee shops, catered events, clubs, bowling alleys and other similar venues in which people congregate for the consumption of food or beverages. Pubs, wineries, bars and breweries that do not include meals provided by a full kitchen must close.
“To summarize: I am telling nonessential businesses you have two choices: One, find a way to service your customers through delivery, drive through, curbside pickup or front door pickup, or two, close your doors.”
The closures are part of federal guidance recommending social distancing. President Donald Trump has urged Americans to follow sweeping guidelines for the next few weeks, including for older residents to stay home and for all people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 as well as restaurants and bars.
Sisolak’s unprecedented order comes after many casinos in Las Vegas moved to shut their doors entirely and the mayor of Las Vegas said she hoped bars and restaurants would be able to stay open.
“My hope is that private industry rises to the top, that they’re allowed to stay open and take care of these families that are paycheck to paycheck,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The mayor of Reno had issued an order similar to Sisolak’s a day earlier, telling many of those nonessential businesses to close in that city starting at 5 p.m. Friday. Mayor Hillary Schieve initially included casinos but rescinded that, allowing gambling operations to continue.
The last time casinos closed in Las Vegas was for John F. Kennedy’s funeral on Nov. 25, 1963. Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday night that, to his knowledge, it was the first time all Nevada casinos have been ordered closed statewide. He previously said this week’s intentional casino closures may be only the fourth since gambling was legalized in Las Vegas in 1931.
Nevada has reported more than 50 cases of the virus so far, including one death. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The Hoover Dam, near the Arizona border and another Nevada tourist attraction, temporarily is closing to visitors “because of the nature of the structure and an inability to implement social distancing standards recommended by the” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a statement.
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which includes Lake Mohave, is remaining open although the Lake Mead Visitor Center, park headquarters lobby and entrance station fee collection operations are closed or canceled until further notice, according to a statement from the recreation area.
“The park remains open. Where it is possible to adhere to the latest health guidance, visitors may continue to enjoy the lakes, trails and open space areas,” the statement said. “For the status of commercial operations, such as marinas, RV parks, raft trips, cruises, outfitters and special events like races, please contact the businesses directly to see if they have adjusted operations.
“The health and safety of park visitors, employees, volunteers and partners is the No. 1 priority. The National Park Service is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.”
With businesses closing and tourism expected to drop off, both Nevada and the Tri-state are forecasting a financial hit, but how big isn’t known.
In Nevada, gambling taxes are second only to sales taxes as a percentage of the state’s annual budget. The leisure and hospitality industry directly employs one of every four workers in the state and has an economic output of about $68 billion in Nevada, according to the Nevada Resort Association.
“I know there will be some who don’t agree with this decision, some who will think this is an overreaction,” Sisolak said. “I want you to know, I have spent countless hours working with medical experts, the White House, the CDC, labor and industry leaders and I fully believe that this is an appropriate and informed reaction.
“I know this directive will cause many of our friends and neighbors to distress. 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.”