Las Vegas’ neon lights go dark as coronavirus outbreak leaves thousands unemployed
Roshy Rivera was hiking at the Grand Canyon with two of her co-workers last week when she found out they’d all just lost their jobs.
As the sun turned the mountains golden that Tuesday afternoon, she and her co-workers received a text message from the owners of Casa Di Amore, the Las Vegas restaurant where Rivera, 37, had worked as a bartender for 12 years. The message said that Nevada’s governor had just ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses, such as casinos, dine-in restaurants and bars, for 30 days amid the growing coronavirus outbreak. Casa Di Amore was going to shut down.
“I will be in contact with more info soon,” the owner said in the text. “PLEASE STAY SAFE.”
Rivera felt numb. She had heard about some casinos shutting down, about major conventions being canceled. But when she’d left for the hiking trip a couple of days earlier, Casa Di Amore still had plenty of customers. Everything had seemed fine.
Now, she worried: How would she make her mortgage payments? How long could she make do with her savings? Would the restaurant reopen in 30 days, and would everyone get their jobs back?
She immediately headed back to Las Vegas with one of her co-workers, arriving at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Hungry, the two looked for somewhere to get a bite — it was usually still prime time in Vegas. But nothing looked open.
“Everything was just dark,” Rivera said. “Everything that should have been lit was dark.”
The pandemic has caused a wave of restaurant, bar and casino closures across the country, as state officials from California to Vermont have scrambled to reduce large gatherings of people to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. According to the American Gaming Association, at least 973 commercial and tribal casinos — or 98 percent of all gaming properties in the United State — have closed, directly affecting about 649,000 casino gaming employees.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s statewide order last Tuesday shutting down casinos and restaurants for 30 days — which police began enforcing Friday — came after health officials reported the state’s first coronavirus death, a Clark County man in his 60s. As of Monday afternoon, there were 245 reported coronavirus cases in the state and four deaths.
The impact of the sweeping closures was felt immediately in tourism-reliant Las Vegas. It’s a city where card dealers, servers, bartenders, housekeepers and others keep the 24/7 revelry running for about 40 million visitors a year. By early Wednesday morning, after the governor’s order, barricades were placed outside casino doors. Cash machines were emptied. Slot machine screens were turned off. Tables had been wiped down and bar stools stored.
Now, thousands of workers like Rivera, tip earners living paycheck to paycheck, are struggling to figure out how they will financially survive the pandemic’s wide ranging effects.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, about 367,900 jobs were supported by tourism in southern Nevada, equal to 37.6 percent of the workforce, in 2018. In the third week of March, 6,356 initial unemployment claims were filed in Nevada, nearly triple the number of the previous week and the largest week-to-week spike in claims since 1987, when record-keeping began, state officials announced Saturday. The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation increased its hours to accommodate the influx.
“We’re trying to get everyone the help that they need,” Rosa Mendez, a spokeswoman for the agency, said. The last time the Las Vegas Strip closed was in 1963 during President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. That lasted for about 15 hours. Not 30 days.
“It’s unprecedented,” said David Schwartz, a gambling historian and a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”