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A nearly empty sportsbook at Wynn Las Vegas on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

MGM chief Jim Murren was among the tourism industry executives who met with President Donald Trump Tuesday, as measures to stop the spread of the new coronavirus wreak havoc on the industry.

“We know your industries are among the hardest hit,” Trump said after the meeting surrounded by the executives and members of his administration, according to the White House pool report.

Murren was the only executive representing the gaming industry. Others at the event included Christopher Nassetta of Hilton, Arne Sorenson of Marriott International, Richard Bates of Disney, Mark Hoplamazian of Hyatt Hotels Corp., John Sprouls of Universal Parks and Resorts, Patrick Pacious of Choice Hotels International and David Kong of Best Western Hotels and Resorts.

“Within days we have transformed from a vibrant industry welcoming people from around the world, to one experiencing a total shutdown of business,” Murren said.  “Addressing this public health emergency required major collective action, which is why MGM shut down our operations. But it comes at a cost to our tens of thousands of employees, small businesses and communities who depended on us.  We look forward to a productive dialogue on how to ensure that when it is safe, we can be in a position to open our doors and for the gaming industry and the nearly 2 million jobs that depend on us to be part of the economic recovery that is to come.”

Murren said that Vice President Mike Pence, who attended the meeting with President Donald Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, “appreciated the Disney and MGM decision to temporarily close our resorts to prioritize public health and the safety of our employees and communities. I indicated that we have strong bookings, and new bookings for June onward so that Las Vegas will rapidly recover when the health crisis is behind us.”

Industries in the state have been scaling back operations following the latest guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended that gatherings of more than 10 people should be avoided.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation have been in contact with industry officials as they close their facilities to keep people from congregating.

Rep. Dina Titus, who represents the Strip, said she’s been in contact with Speaker Nancy Pelosi to advocate for the industry.

“Yesterday, on a call with Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Titus emphasized that any long-term relief package must include the travel and tourism industry and the millions of workers whose jobs depend on it,” Titus communications director Kevin Gerson said.

The House went on its annual spring recess after passing a coronavirus package last week that included emergency paid sick leave, enhanced unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing, enhanced food aid for people affected by the outbreak and a temporary 6.2 percent increase in the federal Medicaid match for states.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen have also been in contact with industry officials and have urged Congress to act.

“The Senator believes Congress must look out for everybody: small businesses, Nevada’s vital gaming, tourism and outdoor recreation industries, families, hospitality industry workers, and the hardest-hit sectors across the Silver State,” said Ryan King, a spokesman for Cortez Masto. 

In a statement, Rosen said she is “in contact with local stakeholders across the state and am working to ensure that all of Nevada’s industries, including our tourism and gaming industry, and our workforce are not left behind as Congress puts together legislation to help our businesses and workers during this difficult and uncertain time.”

The GOP-controlled Senate is currently working to pass a bill approved by the House last week. “As soon as we can,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday after the Senate GOP met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Tuesday.

The Senate will develop a third package, possibly topping $1 trillion, that is expected to include relief for the tourism, gaming and travel industries, McConnell told reporters Tuesday. It could also include a payroll tax cut, sought by Trump. 

Senate Republicans will write the bill with the White House and present it to Democrats in an effort to win the 60 votes needed to pass it. Republicans control 53 votes in the Senate.

McConnell said the Senate would be in session until it passes the bill. He added that measures could be taken to ensure that the entire Senate is not together, to keep the virus from spreading, such as voting in small groups over a longer period of time.

The American Gaming Association (AGA), in a statement released yesterday, said it is urging Congress to provide “liquidity to allow us to support employees.”

Specifics are still being worked out, according to Sara Slane, the former senior vice president of public affairs at the AGA, who now runs her own sports betting advisory firm.

“We are witnessing a rapidly increasing number of our nation’s commercial and tribal casinos that have been shuttered, impacting 55 percent of all casino employees,” the AGA said. “This will have a dire effect on the communities in which we operate across 43 states.” 

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