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Las Vegas Strip a study in contrasts on eve of some casinos shutting

Updated March 16, 2020 - 6:21 pm

The Las Vegas Strip was a study in contrasts Monday, with some hotels and casinos in the process of shutting down and others carrying on business as usual.

The strange goings-on produced an array of emotions among guests and tourists, from amusement to anger to angst.

There were far fewer tourists than usual on the Strip, though some who remained said they were having good times and weren’t overly concerned about contracting the coronavirus. But others said the shutdowns of MGM Resorts properties and Wynn Las Vegas threw a wrench into their plans.

“It’s spooky,” said Tom Reid of Minnesota, who flew into Las Vegas on Sunday expecting to spend spring break in the sun only to discover the MGM Grand was shutting down and he would need to check out by noon Tuesday. He then turned around and booked a flight back home on Monday.

“MGM is actually shutting off all their slot machines. Never seen that before in my life, so I was taking pictures. Took some pictures of the Strip. Nobody is walking. It’s just really a weird vibe because this is not what you expect Las Vegas to be on spring break.”

‘It’s the flu. The flu!’

At Wynn Las Vegas, which was in the process of shutting down for two weeks, one woman balanced her phone on a railing and used a timer to take photos of herself in the empty casino. She would run up, hit a button on her phone, then run back a few feet to strike a pose.

Aside from the tables, the only thing that was open Monday morning at the Wynn was “The Cafe” near the guest elevators. A handful of people came in to grab breakfast. Most said they were employees and couldn’t talk to a reporter.

A couple from Michigan, Tim Kowalczyk, 46, and wife Debbie, 43, were angry over the disruption.

“It’s the flu. The flu!” Tim Kowalczyk said. “They’re going to lose customers and close everything. All this, this is all shut down for the flu.” He gestured to the near-empty casino floor.

He said he was here on a business trip, but flights were cheap so he brought his wife with him. But then his meeting with a client was canceled.

“I don’t care about any of this,” he said. “I don’t care about the room. I don’t care about the flights. I don’t care about the refund. I cared about what I came here for, and I have to leave without doing it.”

Other visitors said they were still happy to be in Las Vegas and found the strange quiet enjoyable.

“It’s probably the healthiest time you could come here because you won’t run into 100,000 people everyday,” said Gunnar Drushba, who arrived in Las Vegas at midnight from Seattle. “Instead you run into 200 people every day.”

At Trump International, it was pretty much business as usual Monday morning, as guests young and old shuffled out of the hotel to catch their rides to the airport.

Two employees, who didn’t want to be named, said everything, including the restaurant was open. There were about a half-dozen people in the restaurant at around 11:20 a.m.

Brian Poole, a guest from New Mexico who was heading home after a weekend stay at the Trump, said news of impending closures of some Las Vegas resorts didn’t affect his stay.

Poole said he planned his trip a couple of months ago but added that even if he was going to travel next week, he wouldn’t make any changes.

‘I’d still have a good time’

“I’d probably still come down here,” he said. “I don’t mind it being slower. There’s only MGM and Wynn closing down. Other than that, I don’t think it’s really a big deal. Trump hotel is not going to close down. Some casinos are open. I’d still have a good time.”

While some tourists struggled to fill their time on the north end of Strip, the Adventuredome at Circus Circus remained opened.

“The girls are getting to do a lot of rides, because there’s no lines,” said Mavis Forget, 61, of Calgary, Alberta.

Forget ( pronounced for-zhay) and her husband, David, have been traveling in their RV since November. To say the couple, who make annual trips to Las Vegas, were surprised when they rolled into town on Friday would be an understatement.

“We didn’t even know the severity of all this, because we don’t have a lot of TV and stuff in the RV,” said David, 60. “Now we’re finding out all this stuff’s happening. It’s pretty weird.”

Chase Hubbell, 23, and Sarah Schiltz, 22, both of Fargo, North Dakota, were playing slots at the Sahara while plotting their next move.

“Gambling and trying to find some decent places to eat,” Hubbell said, when asked how they were spending their time. “We want to go and see stuff, and we want to go try new things, but they’re closing everything. We spent good money to come.”

They arrived on Saturday and were supposed to stay until Friday but moved their return flight to Wednesday out of fear that the airports would close.

“I just think people are making it more scary than it actually needs to be,” Schiltz said.

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Downtown Las Vegas also was relatively quiet, though Gabriel and Gabrielle Montanez of Virginia Beach, Virginia, figured they’d still encounter a line at one of downtown’s more popular destinations.

They were right. A line of about two dozen people stretched from the front door of Gold & Silver Pawn, made famous by the “Pawn Stars” reality show, in the early afternoon.

Not looking for anything particular, the Montanezes just wanted to check out the store they’ve seen many times on television.

“We’re fans of the show. We watch it all the time,” Gabriel Montanez said, while hugging Gabrielle. “We’re really excited to see in there.”

The pawn shop was their last stop before the couple continues a cross-country trip back to Virginia Beach.

Although the planned closures didn’t affect their stay in Las Vegas, they expect the coronavirus concerns will impact the rest of their road trip.

“A lot of the places we were supposed to go are closing down,” Gabriel Montanez said. “A lot of places we were hoping to see won’t be open when we get there.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@review-journal.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter. Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @life_onthecouch.

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