Don’t expect a federal coronavirus relief package for the casino industry before the presidential election, the top government relations official for the American Gaming Association said.
Chris Cylke said election politics have likely torpedoed the chance for additional COVID-19 federal relief funds that could help the gaming industry.
“There’s been an expectation for some time that there would be another package following the CARES Act, but we’ve been in a kind of stimulus purgatory,” Cylke said. “The prevailing view is that something needs to be done, but there are fractured views across Congress.”
President Donald Trump has said he wants to focus in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 3 election on confirming his Supreme Court nominee instead of on coronavirus relief, though negotiations on a broad package were continuing.
The administration later indicated Trump might be open to certain standalone relief measures.
Cylke said he is optimistic there could be a breakthrough and “some quick action,” but not until after the election.
He did not detail what kind of support the casino industry needs.
Major casino companies were largely left out of previous federal assistance programs, although smaller ones were eligible for funds to cover payroll and other basic expenses for a limited time. Larger companies were, however, eligible to take advantage of certain tax breaks associated with the CARES Act.
The largest gaming operators on the Strip — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands — either declined to talk about the issue or didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Some deferred to the Nevada Resort Association, which said federal help is urgently needed.
“Nevada continues to be one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic, with too many Nevadans still out of work, tourism-dependent businesses fighting to survive and massive declines in state revenues,” association President and CEO Virginia Valentine said.
“Timely bipartisan action by Congress to pass additional emergency relief to help furloughed or laid-off employees, impacted businesses and state and local governments is essential in stopping further economic devastation,” she said.
More job losses and cuts to vital government services could be on the horizon if the industry doesn’t receive help, Valentine said.
Nevada’s gaming industry has been devastated by the pandemic, with casinos shut down statewide from mid-March until June 4.
Since then, resorts have seen dramatically decreased revenue and visitation, and several casinos have yet to reopen. Thousands of employees have been laid off, sending unemployment skyrocketing.
In August, gaming revenue was down more than 22% compared to the same month last year, the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported.
Las Vegas visitation was off more than 57%, and hotel occupancy was 42%, down from 87% in August 2019, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
While 90% of resorts nationwide have reopened, most are operating at a limited capacity, Cylke said.
“The goal is to hang on right now. As soon as we can turn the corner, we need to make sure there’s some fuel to add to the fire to make the recovery happens as quickly as possible,” he said.
Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association, said half of all travel-supported jobs — about 1.3 million — will be lost by December without a federal relief bill.
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., in a statement called Nevada’s tourism industry “the lifeblood of our economy.”
Rosen, along with the rest of the Nevada congressional delegation, has pushed to provide payroll assistance to gaming businesses.
Cylke said a federal bill is also needed to provide casinos that follow safety protocols liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Nevada earlier this year passed such legislation, but large gaming companies based in Las Vegas run casinos in multiple states.
“That’s one of our top priorities at the federal level,” Cylke said.
Beyond direct assistance, “anything Congress could do to use the tax code to create incentives for businesses and individuals to start to travel again and spend money, that would only aid the timeline for recovery,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., is pushing a bill that would provide funding for ads to promote tourist destinations.
“We’ve proven that Las Vegas is a resilient city many times and we will do so again, but we cannot do it alone,” Titus said in a statement.