Preparing the palace: How an iconic Las Vegas casino plans to conquer Covid-19

CNN's Kyung Lah speaks with the CEO of Caesars Entertainment Tony Rodio about how the pandemic has halted operations at the iconic Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and how the hotel and casino plans to reopen once restrictions are eased.

Posted: May 15, 2020 6:41 PM
Updated: May 15, 2020 6:41 PM

At the heart of a nearly vacant Las Vegas Strip, Caesar's iconic palace stands empty.

The hotel's doors are locked for the first time in its storied 54-year history.

The casino floor is nearly as silent as its statues, save for the siren song auto-playing from a few slot machines echoing through the polished halls.

It's been the worst experience of Tony Rodio's 40-year casino career. Now, the CEO of Caesars Entertainment is undertaking the Herculean task of safely reopening the 85-acre resort in the era of Covid-19, he told CNN.

"People want to get back to normal again. It's just going to be a process getting there," Rodio said.

The initiative at Caesars Palace is among at least four reopening plans unveiled so far by Las Vegas resort operators itching to serve tourists again while getting employees back to work, even as trade unions demand more transparency and the adoption of their own safety guidelines. Plans by MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts and The Venetian include potentially modifying HVAC systems, suspending buffet service and setting protocols for what to do if a coronavirus test comes back positive.

While states begin to implement phased reopening plans, the Nevada Gaming Commission is laying out its agenda to safely bring Sin City back from economic hell. The gaming control board on Thursday released guidelines for reopening casino restaurants, but there's still no word on when the gaming can begin.

At Caesars Palace, card tables, dice games and even slot machines are being retooled across the casino floor with social distancing and disinfection in mind, Rodio explained.

"We will be deactivating every other slot machine and removing the stool from the game," he said, standing at an darkened slot machine at the center of three-machine row. "A customer can't even stand here and play this game because the game's not even active, and so we will do that throughout the whole floor."

At card tables, the number of seats will be reduced from six to three, he said. And say goodbye to the classic casino scene of a crowd cheering a winning streak.

"Nobody will be able to be within 6 feet of any of the three customers that are playing," Rodio said. "You're certainly not face-to-face."

The changes are being implemented as luck is running out for casino staff. Caesars Entertainment's says 90% of its 60,000 worldwide employees have been furloughed or laid off.

New rules are a gamble in themselves

With no reliable reservations on the books and few remaining staff on site, it's hard to imagine how future revelers and the army of workers who serves them will take to a new set of rules.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has repeatedly called for the city's businesses to reopen but refused to provide guidelines on how they should do so safely. "They better figure it out," she said last month, referring to business owners. "That's their job. That's not the mayor's job."

Throughout Caesars Palace, large red signs posted remind guests to remain 6 feet apart and encourages -- but doesn't require -- them to wear masks.

Employees will be held to stricter requirements -- including masks during shifts and daily temperature checks. "They'll also be asked to complete a questionnaire before they returned to work for the first time to see if they have anything that would lead us to want to get them tested," Rodio said.

As for the Sisyphean task of sanitation, "we have more than enough decks of cards, so we'll be changing out the decks of cards a more frequently," Rodio said.

The dice on craps tables will be cleaned after each roll, and the chips will be frequently sanitized, too, he said. For larger surfaces such as slot machines and elevator banks, employees will be equipped with electronic sprayers.

Guests checking in to one of the 3,960 rooms will be able to use kiosks instead of the front desk, and cleaning staff will not enter rooms during guests' stay, Rodio said.

"So, you begin to see us moving, you know, taking a small step, but a very important step, back towards normalcy," Rodio said.

The powerful Las Vegas culinary union held a rolling protest Tuesday night to demand gaming operators reopen safely. Hundreds of cars lined the strip, with hospitality workers and their families honking and waving signs that read, "Don't gamble with workers' lives," and "Don't roll the dice with our safety."

Workers are demanding more transparency from casinos on plans to reopen and asking Nevada's governor to adopt unions' safety protocols.

For now, the steps being take a Caesars Palace are among the first in an odyssey towards a new casino culture, one its leaders believe will retain the spirit of Las Vegas.

"I can't tell you when we're going to get back to 100% normal, but I'm confident that we'll get there," Rodio said. "I think that it will be in 2021 at some point."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 947918

Reported Deaths: 15377
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1291181990
Lake635721103
Allen53899761
Hamilton44082449
St. Joseph42122590
Elkhart33803491
Vanderburgh30574449
Tippecanoe26915251
Johnson23727418
Hendricks22410342
Porter21832347
Clark17562231
Madison17492385
Vigo16302285
Monroe14545191
LaPorte14389239
Delaware14183222
Howard13971273
Kosciusko11498135
Hancock10935166
Warrick10737178
Bartholomew10635170
Floyd10514208
Wayne10077226
Grant9213204
Morgan8928160
Boone8463111
Dubois7791123
Dearborn769490
Henry7691133
Noble7466101
Marshall7409128
Cass7219118
Lawrence7026153
Shelby6647111
Jackson661386
Gibson6190107
Harrison609386
Huntington604495
Montgomery5853105
DeKalb581091
Knox5535104
Miami548888
Putnam543268
Clinton537465
Whitley529354
Steuben501768
Wabash488692
Jasper483861
Jefferson474492
Ripley457777
Adams446068
Daviess4231108
Scott409165
Clay394957
White393858
Greene393392
Wells389884
Decatur388797
Fayette378578
Posey362341
Jennings356056
Washington334747
LaGrange325175
Spencer321136
Fountain318455
Randolph317190
Sullivan309449
Owen287064
Starke282864
Fulton280454
Orange277859
Jay257038
Perry254152
Carroll245229
Franklin242838
Rush237030
Vermillion235050
Parke221420
Tipton212055
Pike211740
Blackford170534
Pulaski168551
Crawford147318
Newton145845
Benton143916
Brown135846
Martin130217
Switzerland126910
Warren115616
Union98511
Ohio80511
Unassigned0482

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1390015

Reported Deaths: 21820
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1541781574
Cuyahoga1361632341
Hamilton989691326
Montgomery681371161
Summit569981051
Lucas51769869
Butler48139663
Stark42350983
Lorain32165539
Warren30497338
Mahoning27564643
Clermont26081297
Lake24873422
Delaware22600147
Licking20818246
Fairfield20789223
Greene20667275
Trumbull20378516
Medina20178290
Clark18235332
Richland16749236
Portage16442231
Wood15973209
Allen14405261
Miami14063261
Muskingum12976155
Wayne12234244
Columbiana12046242
Tuscarawas11248271
Marion10935150
Pickaway10642129
Scioto10585127
Erie9888171
Ross9648177
Lawrence8967125
Hancock8637143
Ashtabula8509187
Geauga8272156
Belmont8262188
Jefferson7736175
Huron7566131
Union743951
Washington7396126
Athens712065
Sandusky6984135
Darke6884137
Knox6839122
Seneca6533137
Ashland6078115
Auglaize596888
Shelby5845104
Brown578272
Mercer565890
Crawford5591117
Defiance5579101
Madison552171
Highland550982
Fulton543583
Clinton535781
Logan520587
Preble5123111
Putnam4909107
Guernsey487664
Williams469982
Perry464454
Champaign454964
Ottawa443584
Jackson436663
Pike400745
Morrow398251
Coshocton393669
Fayette385053
Adams371575
Hardin367570
Gallia356658
Holmes3326111
Henry331869
Van Wert321471
Hocking312370
Wyandot286058
Carroll267052
Paulding247443
Meigs223042
Monroe193149
Noble174442
Morgan170329
Harrison161741
Vinton141919
Unassigned05
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