After months of COVID misery, casino companies ready for a rebound

As Nevada approaches the anniversary of the start of the 78-day coronavirus-induced casino shutdown, several sources are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

The only problem is that it’s a really long tunnel.

Last week the American Gaming Association said the U.S. commercial gaming industry saw revenue hit a 17-year low of $30 billion in 2020, off by 31 percent from 2019. Everybody saw that coming, and an optimistic point of view would be that, now that most properties have reopened and are seeing casino floor capacities raised and customers returning, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Look no further than MGM Resorts International for a taste of that optimism as the company last week announced that it is ready to go back to 24/7 operations at The Mirage, Mandalay Bay and Park MGM beginning March 3.

While some companies have focused on keeping their doors open and paying their slimmed-down staffs during the pandemic, a few have begun investing in new technology infrastructure to better serve customers when they do return.

Boyd Gaming Corp., collaborating with Aristocrat Technologies, announced last week that it is on the verge of rolling out a “digital wallet” on a mobile app that is linked to Boyd’s B Connected loyalty program.

Similarly, Golden Entertainment Inc., the company behind The Strat, Arizona Charlie’s and the PT’s Pub franchise, will debut Quick Play with Konami Gaming, tying in with Golden’s True Rewards program.

During an earnings call last week, Boyd lamented how rough 2020 has been for the company. The strength of Boyd’s regional properties portfolio has mitigated some of the damage hitting the company’s Las Vegas locals properties.

Boyd still hasn’t opened Main Street Station in downtown Las Vegas and the Eastside Cannery on Boulder Highway, and the company has been hammered downtown in a market segment that it has dominated for years — the Hawaiian Islanders.

The addition of special quarantine protocols for travel between the islands and the mainland have wreaked havoc with that key Boyd market. Boyd has perfected the pipeline between Hawaii and downtown Las Vegas over time, so the return to normalcy can’t come too soon for that company.

Boyd and its locals casino rivals, Station Casinos, have weathered the pandemic relatively well, just as gaming industry analysts predicted. Boyd and Station’s parent company, Red Rock Resorts, were among the rare number of casino companies that registered a fourth-quarter earnings profit.

With the fourth-quarter earnings season a little more than halfway complete, the locals and regional companies are surviving better than their Strip counterparts, mainly because the amenities the Strip is so famous for — quality entertainment, fabulous restaurants, big-time professional sports and renowned spas — are shut down or extremely limited by the government’s virus protocols.

In the fourth quarter, the largest Las Vegas companies — Las Vegas Sands Corp., MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts Ltd. — have collectively lost more than $1 billion. (Caesars Entertainment Inc. is scheduled to report Thursday.)

The airlines that fly tourists to Las Vegas aren’t doing much better, with Southwest Airlines and Allegiant Travel Co. collectively posting close to $1 billion in losses.

Now, we’re ready to turn the page. It appears that state health leaders and the government are finally on track to deliver vaccinations and that the public has become more receptive to getting the shots.

There’s light at the end of that long tunnel. and it’s going to take a little more perseverance to reach it.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, the late CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at [email protected] or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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