Essentially a synonym for gambling on global scale, Las Vegas, and more specifically The Strip, is a destination that is renowned for a heavy reliance on the tourism industry, and one that has been far from exempt among the trials and tribulations of the current time.

Last week the Nevada Gaming Control Board documented the performance of its gaming licensees across the region via its 179-page ‘Nevada Gaming Abstract – 2020’ report.

Severely impacted by a 78 day shutdown from mid-March to the early stages of June, during the reporting period there were 267 casinos in Nevada which grossed $1m or more in gaming revenue.

These generated net income of $2.89bn from total revenue of $18.34bn, in contrast to 2019’s $2.05bn and $24.54bn, respectively.

A short time after Las Vegas’ casinos gained permission to reopen during 2020, CasinoBeats spoke to Adam Wiesberg, general manager at El Cortez Hotel and Casino, about the difficulty in navigating the enforced closure period, particularly with it not being immediately clear when any normalcy would initially return.

Billed as “the longest continuously operating hotel-casino in Las Vegas,” El Cortez’s Wiesberg has issued a update to examine how the second half of the year panned out for both the venue and region’s wider casino ecosystem: “Overall, Las Vegas business is down, especially on The Strip, where trade shows, live entertainment, night clubs and pool parties came to a halt due to COVID,” he says. 

We have all been forced to completely overhaul our operations”

“The Las Vegas gaming industry has come up with very proactive ways of staying open and staying safe, so the gaming customer is still showing up and still finding a safe environment. 

“The Strip is so dependent on tourism that they are really struggling, but Downtown has maintained a primary focus on gambling over the years, so Downtown is faring a bit better than The Strip. 

“As for El Cortez, we have always made our gamble and our local guest the top priority, so we are doing better than most right now. We are obviously way down in hotel occupancy and F&B, but we are holding our own with the gaming business.”

With observers on a global stage taking more than a keen interest in the Las Vegas gaming scene, Wiesberg continues by taking a look at the current atmosphere both professionally and personally: “The gaming industry in Las Vegas has adapted very well to this pandemic by streamlining operations to cater to the gamblers who are coming in, while preparing for a big comeback as pent-up demand is realised once the virus is under control. 

“We have all been forced to completely overhaul our operations, and we are all watching the horizon for signs that tourism is going to return. Once that happens, Las Vegas will be a top destination for the masses, and the properties will quickly fill up again. 

“The worst part of the pandemic has been knowing so many casino executives and front-line workers who have been out of work since last year and not knowing when they will be back to work. 

“…I do believe it is just a matter of time until we are able to come together in small and large groups again

“We have been very fortunate to keep most of our team intact, but I really sympathise for those who had built a career and who are now in a holding pattern waiting for the positions to come back.” 

As previously alluded to, Wiesberg sat down with Casinobeats midway through 2020, at which time it stated that “I am confident that this is the temporary normal instead of the new normal.” 

With this in mind, an update to the comments a little over seven months down the line was offered: “I still feel the same way and especially with the vaccine being released, I do believe it is just a matter of time until we are able to come together in small and large groups again,” he continues. 

“We are hopeful that the vaccine will start to have an impact within two to three months, but we have all adjusted to these new behaviours and restrictions, so we are able to continue as long as necessary. 

“The longer we live under these restrictions, the more I think people will always be more careful about washing hands, touching faces, etc., which isn’t a bad thing. 

“As for our confidence about the future, El Cortez just completed a $25m property renovation including brand new guest rooms and suites, casino carpet and a new high limit room, and we are about to start a complete remodel of our hotel lobby, so we are obviously very confident in the future of Las Vegas.”

This pandemic has provided an education that never would have been possible under normal circumstances”

Restrictions have become commonplace in society amid the health crisis, with the impact to business, communities and families immeasurable as closures ensue and freedoms narrow.

Wiesberg continues by addressing the difficult process of adopting the numerous protocols in place, particularly with regards to health and safety, amid inevitably changing measures: “The process has been extremely challenging, and it has changed the way we do business on every level. That being said, we decided to go all in with COVID safety very early with a complete redesign of our slot floor that provided space in all areas and acrylic dividers where that wasn’t possible,” it is added.

“At the end of the day, whatever challenges come our way, the solution is just to keep your chin up and make whatever changes are necessary to adapt and overcome. We don’t spend time complaining about new regulations and limitations, we just find solutions and implement them as quickly as possible.

“In this case, the changes were all part of keeping our staff and loyal guests safe, so there was never any question about making it our top priority. We were recently recognised by the State of Nevada as a ‘Battle Born Business’ for going above and beyond with COVID safety, and we are very proud of the hard work by our team to receive that distinction.” 

With such an unexpected year now in the rear-view mirror, we conclude by quizzing on what lessons have been learned that will enable El Cortez to move from strength to strength going forward, Weisberg explains: “This pandemic has provided an education that never would have been possible under normal circumstances. Our team had to adapt to once-in-a-lifetime challenges and changes, all while dealing with real health and safety concerns for ourselves and our families. 

“It has definitely taught us not to take anything for granted, and from a practical standpoint, it taught us how to be more efficient and how to make quick and effective changes to adapt to the market. Now more than ever, companies need to be agile and not get stuck in old, inefficient ways.”