The Crystal Bay Casino had five and a half hours of notice from Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office on the evening of March 17 to send their patrons home, clear the money from behind the cashier’s cage, and lock their doors. The directive came on the same day as the governor shut down all nonessential businesses and encouraged residents to stay home, and only five days after Sisolak established a medical advisory team to direct his office’s policy response to COVID-19. California’s stay-at-home order wouldn’t begin for another two days. Nevada’s formal stay-at-home order was declared on April 1.
“Most casinos don’t even have locks on their doors,” said Bill Wood, general manager of the CBC. Luckily, the North Lake Tahoe casino does have locks, so Wood and staff were able to secure the space a mere 30 minutes before the government-mandated midnight shutdown. That evening, the establishment’s iconic marquee, covered in a blanket of mid-March Tahoe snow, read “Stay Strong Tahoe. We got this. See you in a month.”
Seventy-eight days later, the CBC is reopening Thurs., June 4, at the stroke of midnight in response to Nevada entering phase two of the state’s “Roadmap to Recovery” — a 28-page document released in late April that provides statewide guidelines for individuals, employers, and businesses reopening amid COVID. That document is supplemented with detailed instructions for each phase.
“Nevadans have done an incredible job helping to flatten the curve and I want to again thank you for understanding the severity of this healthcare crisis and for taking the necessary precautionary measures, like making a face covering a part of everyday wear,” Sisolak said in his announcement of phase two. “Our collective actions have helped bring us to where we are today, ready to begin phase two of reopening.”
Gaming establishments like the CBC represent just one of the 16-or-so industries/activities permitted to reopen — with restrictions of course — as Nevada enters the next stage of its recovery. Other spaces allowed to reopen in phase two, which loosely began May 29, include but are not limited to bowling alleys, camping facilities, public pools, movie theaters, fitness centers, massage therapy salons, and tattoo parlors.
It is easy to celebrate when we see the large number of businesses allowed to open in the current phase. Still, if we have learned anything about phased reopening during a global pandemic, it is that policy can be confusing and regulations are nuanced. For instance, state parks opened back up for camping at 50% capacity on May 29, yet today many of their associated visitor centers remain closed. Casinos are included in phase two but must wait until June 4 to reopen. And beauty salons, like Luxe Nail in Incline Village, were permitted to open in phase one and can continue to operate in phase two.
The nitty gritty
On May 26, Sisolak announced that the state was entering phase two in only three days, on May 29. The announcement came as prepared remarks, rather than the initially scheduled press conference after Sisolak was in the same room as a person who later tested positive for COVID-19. The governor’s test has since come back negative.
Phase two, or Silver State Stabilization, is the second part of the four-stage roadmap to reopen with a guiding principle that reopening efforts should be “federally supported, state-managed, and locally executed.” In other words, the governor’s office provides opening directives and best practices, but it is at the discretion of businesses how and if they should be opening.
For example, the CBC developed a reopening policy focused on the health and welfare of employees and guests. The plan contains the same precautionary measures that are slowly but surely becoming second nature to citizens — wear a mask, wash your hands, and practice social distancing. But in addition to these now commonplace precautions, the document outlines gaming floor regulations such as no more than three people at the blackjack table per game and a plan to provide slot machine users with a small cone to place on their seat after using a machine so staff knows it needs to be disinfected. This policy was submitted to and approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission, which made a recommendation to the governor’s office for the casino to open on June 4 along with other casinos throughout the state, including those in South Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.
Like many casinos in the state, the CBC is also home to an entertainment venue — a venue that has had to cancel roughly 25 concerts between March and September. Live performances with spectators are one of the few industries not permitted to reopen in phase two; however, if the show bookers at the CBC wanted to host a spectator-free show, they could, but the event operators would be required to submit an operation plan to their appropriate state jurisdiction for approval. The Gaming Control Board approves events on gaming properties, the Nevada Athletic Commission approves athletics, and the Nevada Department of Business and Industry approves all other operations.
But not all industries sanctioned to open in phase two are as regulated as gaming and spectator entertainment. Incline Bowl, for example, reopened its doors Fri., May 29, after closing March 17. Incline Village Cinema was legally permitted to open starting May 29, but is waiting until June 5. Even some Washoe County state employees returned to work on June 1. Of course, all these newly reopened businesses must still follow the statewide standards set in place by Sisolak’s office for individuals and companies.
Other industries sanctioned to resume operation are camping and recreation areas. Campsites on Nevada national forest and state park land are now open but at 50% capacity. Erica Hupp, public affairs staff officer for Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, explained that monitoring these activities is difficult because social distancing is already roughly built into their framework of the campgrounds, but regulation and enforcement are still necessary.
“Most of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National campgrounds in Nevada were either 80% or full this weekend, and the rangers expect this to be the case all summer,” Hupp said about this past opening weekend. Restrooms are open at the campsites that have them, but group sites remain closed.
Day recreation areas, like Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, were never asked to fully close, but operations remain at 50% capacity. According to a park employee, this half-capacity full-capacity is typically reached by 9:30 a.m. on sunny, warm days. The Tahoe East Shore Trail, which has been a source of frustration for the community due to crowds and a lack of social distancing, remains closed between Memorial Point and Sand Harbor in an effort to enforce the 50% capacity.
And because Nevada shares a border with California, many state parks operate in more than one state jurisdiction. For example, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is mostly in Nevada, but a small sliver is located in California, which includes the ever-popular Bridgeport region.
“When you’re working with two states, you have to understand they are very different from each other,” Hupp said. “You have a lot more rural areas in Nevada than in California … it seems like their phasing has been going a lot slower than our phasing has been going.”
Two states and two economies means two recovery plans
On April 27, Nevada and Colorado joined California, Oregon, and Washington in the Western States Pact, a group of governors in the west committed to a coordinated reopening from their respective stay-at-home orders.
“COVID-19 doesn’t follow state or national boundaries, and it will take every level of government working together to get the upper hand on this virus,” California Gov. Gavin Newson said in a statement welcoming Nevada to the pact.
Yet little has been heard about the pact since Nevada announced its involvement in late April. And although Nevada and California are both currently in stage/phase two (though some California counties have been permitted to enter stage three), their reopening plans feel to be at different stages. (Read about stage two and three in the California side of our coverage area.)
Greg Buchheister, founder/CEO of Coffeebar — which operates in both California and Nevada — agrees with Hupp’s sentiment that California is phasing slower than Nevada. However, he sees a lack of compliance with recommendations across the board.
“Maybe one out of 10 people from a customer basis is wearing a mask,” Buchheister said. “Or two out of 10 is probably better. That’s 20% of people are wearing a mask.”
And while Coffeebar has company-wide rules that don’t differ state-to-state or county-to-county, Buchheister has noticed customers in Reno tend to be a little less compliant.
“Our goal is to have our people in masks because it helps protect them just as much as it helps protect the customers, but customers come in, and they don’t have one, and then it’s kind of counterproductive.”
He is struggling to find the balance of keeping his customers and employees safe, while also respecting the free will of Coffeebar customers who don’t want to wear a mask.
The Reno location has been Coffeebar’s most consistently profitable shop since opening in Jan. 2014, but right now, they are seeing numbers lower than the week they opened. What’s more, this past weekend as they moved into phase two, which allowed the Reno shop to switch from takeout-only to 50% capacity, their sales saw a 0% impact.
An uncertain future is certain
Nightclubs, day clubs, adult entertainment establishments, brothels, live sporting events, and live performances with spectators are the few businesses required to remain entirely closed in phase two of Nevada’s Road to Recovery, which is estimated to last a minimum of two to three weeks.
Kevin Bass, public relations and communications manager for Reno 1868 FC, says the Reno minor league soccer team — along with Reno Aces baseball and all other events at Great Nevada Field — are contending with an uncertain future. Their office staff has started slowly phasing back into the building, working a day a week in shifts. But the “on-field stuff” is a little more complicated by both the fact that sporting events have historically been played in front of spectators and also because they typically play teams from other states that are on different opening schedules.
“It’s the biggest challenge because you can’t just set one rule and expect everybody to follow it exactly the same because some clubs are in areas that are hit a lot harder than others,” Bass said.
He explained that the soccer team is still under a suspended season, meaning games that are slated to be played next week haven’t technically been canceled yet, but he’s “pretty sure they’re not going to happen” and believes they will be rescheduled or delayed. Minor league soccer isn’t affiliated with Major League Soccer, which is grappling with the threat of a lockout due to economic struggles during the pandemic, thus planning is independent of the professional league directives.
The Reno Aces are a different story. “Right now the discussion is shortening the season, but again, because of their [the Aces] relationship to Major League Baseball, they are going to figure out the major league season, and once that is locked up, then they will say what are we going to do for the minor league,” Bass said.
Along with what feels like almost every industry in the nation, Reno’s minor league sports are becoming used to rolling with the punches, living in the grey, and thinking creatively about solutions.
“Just about everything’s in discussion. We’re considering everything,” Bass said. “And we’re starting to get the edges of the puzzle, but it is far from complete.”