Sandra Morgan says the Gov. and counties will take a more targeted approach at ensuring that the "bad actors" are closed, so the rest of the industry can continue to operate. She says market recovery could be anywhere between 18 and 36 months, and operators are trying to be creative. She has "high hopes" for Caesars-Eldorado merger, and says Nevada has embraced an esports environment, but hasn't seen a huge demand in the esports betting market yet.
Over two months after reopening, people coming to Las Vegas and Nevada residents now know what to expect when they go to gaming properties, Sandra Douglass Morgan, Chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) told Yogonet in a video interview, referring to the new environment at casinos after reopening in early June.
With over 170 regulatory violations under investigation that are specifically related to the coronavirus, she said those measures range from everything to guests not wearing masks, not having proper social distancing at table games, and public or private gatherings exceeding 50 people. “A lot of times, if we interact with the licensee and we tell them we see a couple of patrons that aren't wearing face coverings, nine times out of ten, someone will go over there right away and be on it," she said. "We understand that it's difficult to regulate third party behavior, but there has to be an attempt on the licensee to take that seriously. And so employees, training, temperature checks, those are all things that they can easily do that are within their control.” In that sense, Morgan noted that Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and the counties are going to take a more targeted approach at ensuring that the "bad actors" are closed, not necessarily the rest of the industry: "It's important that those bad actors be addressed so that the rest of the industry can continue to operate."
Sisolak signed Senate Bill 4 last week, expanding workplace safety protections for hotel and casino employees and also protecting casinos and other businesses that follow health directives from COVID-related lawsuits. Morgan said the bill was very well received by the business community and by union groups in Nevada, and she noted it specifically addresses public accommodations. With regard to the business liability protections, she said it covers a very wide range of businesses. "That was important to be able to allow them to reopen and do not have the concern that their businesses could be shuttered because of one large lawsuit that was related to COVID-19.”
The Health and Human Services Department is to create and promulgate regulations specific to public accommodation facilities and how they're going to be cleaned, Morgan said, "and I think that process will likely occur in the next couple of weeks, so we will definitely take a look at those, they are the experts in that field, and see what, if any, needs to be incorporated in the gaming regulations."
When asked about the projections for a market recovery in Nevada, Morgan said: "I don't think anyone thought that this pandemic would last as long as it had. Initially, we said we thought we would have a recovery within 12 to 24 months, and I think that could be now anywhere between 18 and 36 months," adding that regional markets are going to recover much faster.
"I know that operators are trying to be creative by looking at 'staycations,' and now that everyone's working remotely, you can work remotely in a Las Vegas or a Reno hotel because the connectivity is great, you can work during the day and still enjoy the pool and some other events at night. And I think that the operators are going to definitely be more innovative. We've seen a lot of potential for how in a game, if you're playing the game and someone can sense that it's on, the next one next to you is off to ensure social distancing," she explains. "Even if we get to a point where there is medicine or a vaccine, I still think people are going to be a bit cautious. But I do think people want to come back and have a good time when that time comes. Yes, I do think Las Vegas will take some time to recover. We've been able to recover from other unfortunate events, whether it be 9/11 or the recession or the horrible 1 October shooting, and I'm pretty sure that we'll be able to reinvent ourselves again."
Furthermore, Morgan said when analyzing the Eldorado-Caesars merger she did have some concerns, and asked several questions about its financial viability, and why combining two relatively healthy companies into one in the middle of a global pandemic would be a good decision. "I think they did a really good job talking about the synergies that can take place between both companies," she said. "We considered the fact that Caesars is going to be the largest gaming company, and potentially the first or second-largest general employer in the state of Nevada. And they assured us that they were going to make the requisite capital improvements that were needed for the Las Vegas and Reno properties. And they understand that there is very high competition in Nevada, and in order for them to continue to attract, whether it be domestic or international visitors, that they would have to ensure that their properties are kept in very good conditions with the latest and greatest entertainment and gaming offerings that they have. And I think they did a really good job talking about their ability to realize the synergies that they've made in prior mergers and how that could be applied to Nevada. We're also obviously going to have a bigger player marketing reach and player base. And so I definitely have high hopes for them."
Morgan said the board got great feedback from the decision to include commitment to problem gambling and what they're going to do to enhance their responsible gaming and efforts in their reopening plans. She also noted that as of February of 2021, there has to be a limit on the devices so they are not able to increase wagering amounts if they set a certain limit within a 24-hour period. "I think Nevada definitely could do more with regard to responsible gaming. That it isn't something we've traditionally been the leader on, but we definitely want to, especially as we go to a more of an online presence where people are actually wagering and doing sports betting on their phones, and there are definitely more protections that can be made in that area."
The NGCB Chairwoman is part of the committee that reviews submissions to the Lee School Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a joint collaboration with the Lee Business School at UNLV, offering a million-dollar prize. "Some of the ideas that we've seen as part of that contest have been great, and they're from people from all different walks of life. There are actually international submissions that came in as well. It's very creative because it's talking about how can we ensure that the consumer knows that they're going to be safe when we get back to a point where we are able to open conventions and shows."
For instance, some submissions make it easier to detect when there is a cluster of people that are not social distancing, so the operator can go there. At conventions, being able to connect people via app according to customized interests, whether it be online gaming or sports wagering, notifying about live demos on those topics. Others seek to find ways that people can have their full bodies disinfected before they walk into a facility, and pop-up stations for health care. "Those are the type of things that I think consumers are going to want to see and want before they come back to the shows and conventions. And I really give credit to the LEE business school, for one, putting up the money to have that prize, and having it in Las Vegas, knowing that we are going to remain to be the hub for gaming and hospitality. We haven't decided on the winner yet, but that will likely happen in the next two weeks."
When asked about the growing esports industry, Morgan said Las Vegas was definitely ahead of the curve in trying to create an esports environment that offers different entertainment options. "Nevada has definitely embraced that, and about three years ago, we allowed our regulations to include wagering on esports as part of our other events in our regulation. And we also entered into an MOU with the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) in an effort to better evaluate esports and have specific metrics to measure the integrity of organizations involved in esports. And ESIC is definitely partnered with a lot of larger tournaments and held trainings with them, and then that's very, very important."
However, Morgan believes that esports and the request to wager on them is based on market demand, and there hasn't been a consistent request. As of last year, the Nevada regulator had less than five requests from 2017 to 2020 to allow wagers on esports tournaments. "Now, when things closed in March, I probably had five requests to wager on esports tournaments in that three-month period. But with more traditional sports, now with baseball and basketball coming back, I've definitely seen a dip in requests to wager on these esports events, but it is definitely based on demand."
Morgan estimates there were probably less than 12 requests in total since Nevada allowed wagering on esports. "As always, we will definitely talk to our licensed sportsbooks, see what the needs are, see what the issues are, and try to make wagering on these events possible. But we just haven't seen a huge, huge demand in that as of yet."