Nevada Resort Association: State is ‘national epicenter of economic devastation’ from coronavirus

A couple walks southbound on the Las Vegas Strip near Flamingo Road Friday, March 20, 2020.

Strip Casinos Begin Temporary Closures

The intersection of Las Vegas Blvd and Harmon Ave is seen mostly empty after Governor Sisolak orders a mandatory closure of all nonessential businesses in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Launch slideshow »

The lobbying organization for Nevada’s resorts and casinos predicts that the coronavirus pandemic could end up being twice as bad for the state as the Great Recession, which peaked in the early 2010s when Nevada was one of the nation's leaders in home foreclosures and the unemployment rate was more than 10%.

In a letter to the state’s federal delegation Friday, the Nevada Resort Association, through a research firm, estimates that 320,000 employees in the state are “at risk” because of the economic downturn.

Those employees — some have already been laid off or furloughed — earn about $1.3 billion in earnings each month, according to the association.

On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Sisolak called for all gaming operations in the state to close for 30 days in response to the pandemic. Following Sisolak’s announcement, the Nevada Gaming Control Board suspended all gaming licenses until April 18.

It’s still unclear, whether casinos will reopen at the immediate end of the 30-day period.

“Nevada could quickly see its unemployment rate increase above 30 percent,” the association said in the letter. “The ensuing strain on state and local governments and other service providers, which are disproportionately reliant on tourism-related tax revenues and will quickly deplete unemployment insurance funds and reserves, would be catastrophic.”

The state welcomes about 57 million visitors annually, including 42 million to Las Vegas alone.

If Nevada’s tourism is shuttered for between 30 and 90 days, the association said, a period of 12-18 months would likely be needed for a successful economic recovery. In such a scenario, about 480,000 tourism-based Nevada jobs would be at risk.

“Nevada is the crossroads where all the segments of the travel industry meet — making us the national epicenter of economic devastation cause by COVID-19,” the association said in its letter.

Nationwide, more than 600,000 gaming workers are out of work because of the pandemic, according to the American Gaming Association.

Bill Miller, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement Thursday that 95% of the country’s 465 commercial casinos and about three-fourths of the 524 tribal casinos in America are temporarily shut down.

Miller said $43.5 billion in economic activity will be “robbed” from the U.S. economy if casinos remain closed for the next eight weeks, though he also called the casino closures “important health and safety decisions” made by state governments.

“The impact on our employees, their families, and communities is staggering, and the implications extend far beyond the casino floor,” Miller said. “Technology companies that supply the industry, and the nearly 350,000 small business employees that rely on gaming for their livelihood, are also feeling the devastating blow of this unprecedented public health crisis.”

The American Gaming Association and Nevada Resort Association are asking federal lawmakers for economic relief dollars.

The March 20 letter was addressed to all six of Nevada’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.