LAS VEGAS – Three miles west of the glittering Strip, Brian Slipock runs a modest watering hole called Jackson’s.
It’s the kind of spot that draws neighborhood folks and Las Vegas locals to barstools from nearby homes.
“Casinos have more people working on a shift than I employ,” Slipock said.
By 11:59 p.m. Friday, he will close the bar for the second time this year. A spike in COVID-19 cases led Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s to roll back reopening for businesses like Jackson’s, forcing bars that don’t serve food to shut down.
Slipock says he has a better plan for stemming surging cases: Shut down casinos.
At a press conference Friday, Sisolak’s top two COVID-19 response officials, declined to address why casinos aren’t part of the new restrictions.
Julia Peek, deputy administrator of Nevada’s Public and Behavioral Health division, said data shows people are at risk of infection in bars because they are in close proximity to others indoors.
“Bars is a great example of where that occurs often – not only in our state but other states as well,” she said.
She declined to address why that is not a concern in casinos. Sisolak’s COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage also did not address the question.
Tony Alamo spent 12 years as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. He stepped down in April focus on his full-time job as a medical doctor who now puts on a mask to treats patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This gives me a unique perspective,” Alamo told the USA TODAY Network.
But when it comes to whether the state should order the closure of casinos to stem the spread of COVID-19, the answer is complex.
“Solutions to this problem are complicated and cannot be taken in a vacuum: All licensees are not equal,” Alamo said. “Some have the ability to create infrastructures that are safe for all; others do not.”
It’s hard to predict what Gov. Sisolak will do in these unprecedented times, Alamo said.
“Nevada is unique in that tourism primarily powers our economic engine. Consequently, we cannot simply follow the path of our neighboring states,” he said. “I hope these decisions are made as a collaboration between the industry and the governor. There’s too much at stake if they get it wrong.”
The USA TODAY Network reached out to the largest Las Vegas Strip casino companies and asked if they anticipated the governor following his bar closure order with one that closed casinos.
Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands declined to comment. MGM Resorts did not respond to a request for comment.
The return of bar restrictions will likely trigger trip cancellations as this tourism mecca struggles to get back on its feet after a nearly three-month closure.
Casino hotels only reopened five weeks ago. In that five weeks, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Nevada has surged.
The known number of Nevadans who have tested positive for COVID-19 reached 25,908 on Friday morning, according to health officials.
That’s an increase of 1,004 new cases over what was previously reported on Thursday morning, the largest one-day increase in the state since the pandemic began. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Nevada increased by eight for a total of 579.
The uptick in cases stems from contacts exposed during social gatherings, domestic travel and a lack of social distancing, health officials said.
Nevada’s effective reproduction number has dropped to 1.09 — roughly speaking, each person with coronavirus in Nevada goes on to infect 1.09 other people.
The Silver State now has the 20th-lowest effective reproduction number in the U.S., a marked improvement from earlier this month when it was higher than every other state.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here.