Vegas in the Time of Virus? We're Deserted in the Desert
THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2020 -- It should have been like driving the Van Wyck Expressway to Kennedy Airport or Sepulveda Boulevard to LAX. On a weekday afternoon during the height of the rush hour. Everyone is in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere.

It should have been one of the busiest, most congested weekends of the year but it wasn't. Instead, the Las Vegas Strip, normally as automobile friendly as the Van Wyck or Sepulveda, was deserted.

We're deserted in the desert. That's not the way Vegas was built.

Like the rest of the country, things on the four-mile-long Las Vegas Strip are quiet. Same at Disney, same on Broadway, same at stadiums and arenas across the country.

Last weekend should have been total chaos out here. The NCAA basketball Final Four was scheduled in Atlanta, but the real action would have been in Vegas hotels and gambling sports books. Thousands upon thousands of gamblers and partygoers should have been here. More money is wagered on the basketball tournament than the Super Bowl. The event normally stretches over three weekends and profits go right to the hotels' balance sheets.

There were tens of thousands of conventioneers ticketed for the Nevada desert last weekend, too. All gone. The number of cancellations now runs far in excess of a quarter of a million and counting.

My wife and I put the dogs in the back seat of the car and we took an evening drive to see for ourselves. We traveled from the Sahara Hotel, about 10 miles east of our home in Summerlin, down to the MGM Grand. Three and a half of the four-mile Strip. Normally, it's a 30-or 40-minute drive.

This time it took less than ten--and we did not like what we saw.

The city of Las Vegas has in excess of 150,000 hotel rooms. They are all dark now. The lights on the marquees of the Strip hotels were still burning but not as brightly as they would have in "normal" times. We saw exactly eight people. Eight. Two were on bicycles, six were walking. Undoubtedly locals out for some exercise. The most stunning view, the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road--home to Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Bally's and the Flamingo Hilton--had not one human. Nobody. Before the advent of the elevated pedestrian walkways those four corners had been the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world. They are empty now.

Tucked behind the New York-New York and the Park MGM (formerly Monte Carlo) hotels sits T-Mobile Arena, the newest entertainment venue in town. It normally rocks with 18,000 fanatics cheering on their National Hockey League team, the Vegas Golden Knights. In only their third season, the Knights have become one of the league's best. They sold out all 143 of their home dates since they were born in 2017. There hasn't been this much excitement among the locals since Elvis left the building. This night, and now every night, the arena is dark. Playoff hockey, with the Knights a Stanley Cup favorite, should be in full swing. Instead the doors are bolted shut. It's eerie.

The National Football League draft was due to be the anchor of Vegas' spring tourism. It was scheduled for April 23-25 on the Strip. "Only" 600,000 people were due in town for that weekend. But now the draft will be held in a conference room in New York with no guests and no audience.

All Las Vegas entertainment is gone for the foreseeable future, too. The two shows in May for which I have tickets--Lady Gaga, as a Mother's Day surprise for my wife, and The Who, four days later--have been scrapped. There is strong rumor that the Cirque du Soleil shows, playing multiple Strip properties, may never return, with the company in the throes of bankruptcy.

Air travel is nearly gone, of course. Las Vegas Airport has closed some terminals since there are so few flights to service. Most of the airport's facilities are marked in red with the words "temporarily closed."

Like virtually all other state leaders, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak shut down all non-essential businesses. That means the cannabis industry, regulated and very popular, had to get innovative. How about home delivery? If you can order take-out food why can't you have your pot delivered? There's a 36-hour wait for that knock on the front door. And there's a $75 minimum purchase required. Business is riding high.

Fortunately, for area football fans and the tourism industry, construction has been labeled "essential." That means work on Allegiant Stadium, the home this fall to the Las Vegas Raiders, continues. The Raiders, after decades bouncing around Oakland and Los Angeles, are due to play their first season in Vegas this fall. Assuming, of course, there is a 2020 football season. On March 17, Governor Sisolak ordered a statewide shutdown of all casinos for 30 days. He has extended the closure until May 1. That also includes slot machines in convenience stores, grocery stores and at the airport. Hotel booking engines that were accepting reservations as of April 16 have now moved their calendars back to May 1. It may be optimistic, and in fact probably is, but thousands of furloughed hospitality industry workers hope the optimism has merit.

When the country is ready to go again, Vegas will be humming. It's the perfect venue for release of the nation's pent-up boredom and frustration. Hotels will start to gouge the public right from the get-go once again. The self-serving daily resort fees, $35-$50 per night, will return. Paid parking, contentious among locals and hotel guests, will no doubt return. Exorbitantly priced drinks, food and entertainment costs will all be back.

And you know what? Why not? It will be nice to be out of the house and have something to complain about again.

Viva Las Vegas. The sooner the better! -- Roy Berger

ABOUT ROY BERGER
Roy Berger writes the twice-monthly Sunday Morning Coffee blog, which covers life, love, politics and sports. He has written for JoeSentMe about travel insurance, baseball fantasy camps and his decision to live in Las Vegas.