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Las Vegas tourism slumps as coronavirus surges

                                A woman watches the fountains at the Bellagio hotel-casino along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.
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A woman watches the fountains at the Bellagio hotel-casino along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS >> Las Vegas welcomed nearly 1.9 million tourists in October, a greater total than September but only about half the 3.7 million it hosted throughout the month a year prior, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported this week.

The slow and incomplete return of tourists continues to imperil the city’s overall economy and experts haven’t begun to analyze how new restrictions put into effect today to contain the spread of COVID-19 could jeopardize efforts to bring back the concerts, conventions and trade shows that traditionally draw visitors to Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Tourists’ hesitance to travel has caused air traffic to plummet in most parts of the United States, including Las Vegas, however the market for tourists who live within driving distance grew in October, compared to a year prior.

“October average daily auto traffic actually increased 3.6% year over year on all major highways and was up 7.3% year over year on Interstate 15 at the Nevada-California border,” said Joe Greff, a managing director at J.P. Morgan.

Under Nevada’s current guidelines, events and gatherings are limited to 25% capacity and large events with more than 250 attendees are canceled while the state undergoes a three-week “statewide pause” to reel in the rapidly spreading pandemic.

The National Finals Rodeo, which brings more than 170,000 fans to Las Vegas each December, relocated to Arlington, Texas, where coronavirus restrictions are less stringent.

Amid the new restrictions, organizers are evaluating how to move forward with live entertainment. At least 13 shows reopened to live audiences in October and November, the Las Vegas Sun reported, and now must adapt to the new guidelines. Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts told the newspaper they were assessing what to do for shows that have already sold tickets and would likely re-price or re-schedule many of their offerings.

At Caesars Palace, the variety show “Absinthe” is planning to limit its audience 50 guests through Dec. 15.

Months of capacity restrictions have also presented new challenges to restaurants, many which worry they may have to shut their doors. James Trees, the owner and chef at Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Sun that the state’s decision to decrease capacity caps from 50% to 25% meant he could only seat 18 people. Without more diners, it’s hard to make a profit and justify staying open: “Maybe you close for two or three months until the vaccines are available, or maybe it’s six months,” he said.

Unlike in New Mexico, Illinois and Michigan, casinos remain open in Nevada.

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