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Disabled slot machines inside the Tropicana Casino and Resort as seen on the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, after gaming operations were ordered closed by Governor Steve Sisolak. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

The regulatory agency that oversees casinos is already working on a policy mapping out guidelines for larger resorts and other gaming establishments to reopen, Gaming Control Board Chair Sandra Douglas Morgan said Wednesday, though the gaming industry is likely to be included in a later phase of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s reopening plan.

Morgan, in an interview with The Nevada Independent, said that gaming licensees will be required to meet certain standards in order to reopen, including confirming that their properties have been cleaned and disinfected pursuant to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certifying that employees have been trained properly on what to do if a patron is ill and establishing how they plan to implement social distancing guidelines.

The full policy, Morgan said, will likely be released at some point after Sisolak’s “roadmap to recovery” announcement on Thursday, though she couldn’t say exactly how soon.

“You want to give people as much notice as possible,” Morgan said. “I know the governor wants to give people as much notice as possible as well.”

Morgan said the board isn’t operating off of a projected reopening date and that she wasn’t sure on what Strip hotels that have started taking reservations for as soon as May 15 are basing their decisions.

“They’re running a business, so they’re basing their reservation dates, I think, probably on just estimating when they could reopen and maybe getting a sense of the willingness of people to come back,” Morgan said. “I think people are just trying to say they’re willing to open.”

Sisolak said Wednesday on Good Morning America that casinos will likely not be allowed to reopen until phase three or four of his reopening plan.

Under state law, gaming regulators are tasked not only with ensuring the integrity of the actual gaming practice but, generally, protecting the “public health, safety, morals, good order and general welfare of the inhabitants of the state” through their regulatory functions.

Non-restricted licensees, including casinos, will not only be required to follow the minimum guidelines set forward in the policy but also submit to the board a plan with specifics on how they plan to carry it out, Morgan said. Other licensees will only be required to commit to the board that they are following the policy but will not be required to submit their own plans.

Morgan said she anticipates that the policy will include specific limits on occupancy and the metrics will be finalized by the time the board releases its guidelines. She said that occupancy limitations could be achieved a number of different ways, including placing limits on how many chairs are at each table game, using technology from slot accounting systems and tasking security personnel with ensuring people aren’t congregating.

The policy may also include a requirement that each property establish a point of contact on site for the health district to call if they need information to assist with contact tracing, Morgan said.

She said she is not, however, considering requiring licensees to use thermal imaging cameras at entrances to screen for sick patrons — as some casinos have said they plan to do — and, rather, is focused on ensuring that properties have a plan in place for how to respond when someone ill is identified. Some properties, she said, may choose to use other thermal imaging cameras while others may choose to utilize a nurse or EMT on staff.

The board is, however, waiting to hear from the governor on what guidance will apply to all businesses before issuing a final policy, Morgan said.

“We’re going to be different from what other industries are doing but, at the same time, if there’s guidance that applies to everyone, we will make sure our directive is consistent with that,” Morgan said. “I thought it would be wise to see the governor’s plans that will be discussed tomorrow before issuing any further guidance.”

Morgan described the policy as “step two” for the board toward reopening gaming establishments after it issued a policy memorandum last week asking licensees to provide a technical reopening plan that includes, among other things, a schedule for replenishment of funds, the most recent count and drop times and a plan for how to handle expired payout receipts and wagering vouchers. 

She said that the board has received “a few” such plans, which aren’t due until seven days before the business plans to reopen, though the details of the plans are confidential under state law.

Morgan said that while the board can use its disciplinary authority — which ranges from phone calls and violation letters up to formal complaints — to ensure compliance from licensees, she is optimistic that most will comply with the board’s new policies. 

“I think most licensees are taking this very seriously and want to do it right,” Morgan said. “That’s the message I want to send out there for the public and for them as well. I appreciate their input. When it’s time to open there will be a good process in place so licensees can understand what’s expected and guests can know the properties are doing everything they can to ensure their safety.”

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