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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: 752108

Reported Deaths: 13816
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1033831790
Lake558431013
Allen41736693
St. Joseph37007565
Hamilton36617417
Elkhart29425461
Tippecanoe22938228
Vanderburgh22565400
Porter19369327
Johnson18486389
Hendricks17696317
Clark13233195
Madison13176344
Vigo12631253
LaPorte12429221
Monroe12226176
Delaware10970198
Howard10349224
Kosciusko9643121
Hancock8578147
Bartholomew8174157
Warrick7864156
Floyd7815180
Grant7248179
Wayne7164201
Boone6979103
Morgan6768141
Dubois6224118
Marshall6214116
Cass6024110
Henry5903110
Dearborn589878
Noble581688
Jackson509476
Shelby502396
Lawrence4753122
Gibson445595
Clinton443555
Harrison441775
DeKalb440385
Montgomery439890
Whitley406744
Huntington403381
Steuben400859
Miami395769
Jasper389155
Knox377691
Putnam373461
Wabash362383
Ripley347370
Adams345555
Jefferson336186
White332753
Daviess3035100
Wells295481
Decatur289892
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey274335
LaGrange273272
Scott270356
Clay267148
Washington246336
Randolph245183
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228159
Fountain222048
Sullivan214843
Owen212358
Fulton204043
Jay201032
Carroll193820
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion175344
Franklin170435
Tipton166646
Parke149616
Pike138334
Blackford136232
Pulaski120847
Newton114936
Brown104443
Benton102614
Crawford102516
Martin91815
Warren84115
Switzerland8158
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0424

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1109697

Reported Deaths: 20213
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1289521469
Cuyahoga1158802216
Hamilton814201251
Montgomery525861049
Summit484551006
Lucas43384824
Butler39098606
Stark33355930
Lorain25689506
Warren24612305
Mahoning22388602
Lake21219389
Clermont20138253
Delaware18892136
Licking16671225
Fairfield16589204
Trumbull16560483
Medina15618273
Greene15292248
Clark14244306
Wood13296200
Portage13254216
Allen11919239
Richland11611211
Miami10857225
Wayne9153225
Columbiana9039230
Muskingum8909135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8654251
Marion8649139
Erie8058165
Ashtabula7171179
Hancock6999133
Ross6948163
Geauga6850151
Scioto6540106
Belmont6159174
Union585049
Lawrence5741102
Jefferson5683159
Huron5554122
Sandusky5444126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5321109
Athens524460
Auglaize502487
Mercer487785
Shelby477095
Knox4573112
Madison444566
Ashland435997
Putnam4336104
Defiance432399
Fulton432274
Crawford4046110
Brown402761
Logan387678
Preble3859105
Clinton379266
Ottawa373581
Highland360266
Williams348578
Champaign344959
Guernsey325254
Jackson318454
Perry297350
Morrow291940
Fayette285750
Hardin275765
Henry273867
Holmes2703101
Coshocton269360
Van Wert247264
Adams243156
Pike242835
Gallia240850
Wyandot234756
Hocking220663
Carroll197548
Paulding176642
Meigs148540
Monroe136345
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan110124
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Huntington
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Decatur
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Van Wert
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Daily rounds of showers and thunderstorms will increase the flood threat across northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
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