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Las Vegas, slowed by coronavirus and shaken by violence, readies for reopening

People screaming as their roller coaster makes a steep plunge. Waiting in line for the obligatory photos at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. Listening to Elvis belt out “Viva Las Vegas” as jets of water soar skyward.

Many of iconic sights and sounds of Vegas are poised to return Thursday.

Along the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Vegas, what’s said to be the world’s largest video screen is counting down the minutes until midnight. When June 4 arrives, much of Las Vegas is expected to again spring to back life, although subdued by protests after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

In Las Vegas, the disturbances led to two shootings late Monday night and early Tuesday. In the first, a police officer was shot in the head during a demonstration outside the Circus Circus hotel-casino on the north end of the Strip. In the second, a heavily armed man standing amid a group of protesters outside a federal courthouse was shot dead by police officers as the man reached for one of his weapons. Both shootings took place on the well-known Las Vegas Boulevard.

How or whether the violence will put a damper on the enthusiasm of returning guests is unclear. Protests on Tuesday night were uneventful.

A surge in reservations led Caesars Entertainment to say it would open not only Caesars Palace and Flamingo but also Harrah’s Las Vegas. On Tuesday night, MGM Resorts provided more good news for potential visitors: It is expected to reopen Excalibur on June 11.

Fifteen hotel-casinos, less than half of the 35 or so resorts along the Strip, expect to open by the weekend. They include, from north to south: the Strat, Sahara, Circus Circus, Wynn-Encore, Treasure Island, the Venetian, Harrah’s, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, the Cosmopolitan, MGM Grand, the Signature at MGM Grand, New York-New York and Tropicana.

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Only Wynn-Encore promises that both hotel towers and all restaurants, barring its buffet, will relaunch Thursday. Its competitors will start more modestly, adding venues as demand increases. Caesars, for example, will begin with five eateries, including the popular Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen and Vanderpump Cocktail Garden.

Although the resorts won’t require guests to wear a face mask, they are strongly encouraged to do so. Employees are required to wear masks. Expect to see workers frequently disinfecting surfaces: craps tables and slot machines, elevator buttons and menus.

 In this March 21 photo, a sign advises people to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In this March 21 photo, a sign advises people to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

(John Locher / Associated Press)

At MGM Resorts properties, look for a plethora of Plexiglas, intended to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“As you look around, you can see there’s Plexiglas barriers set up at the front desk,” said John Flynn, the corporate vice president overseeing new health and safety practices. “There are Plexiglas barriers all throughout the casino. We have Plexiglas set up in our host stands and where we have points of sale.

Guests also will find dispensers stocked with masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Touchless hand washing stations are placed throughout casinos at Bellagio, MGM Grand and New York-New York.

“When you come in here, you’re going to see probably 75% is about the same, and there’s going to be 25% of these additional safety layers that we’ve put in,” Flynn added.’

Even outdoors, the emphasis will be on trying to avoid contagion, even at New York-New York’s Big Apple Coaster.

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If you are not thrill seeking with friends you arrived with, you will be seated alone. There will be at least one unoccupied car between each car with passengers. After each ride, all lap bars and shoulder restraints will be wiped down, even in empty cars.

At the High Roller Ferris wheel at the Linq Promenade, 10 passengers per cabin will be the new maximum. Before the mid-March shutdown, it was 40.

Newly mandated safety rules will be enforced by agents from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

“[The] Gaming Control Board is going to be very aggressive in terms of being on the properties, visiting the properties and making sure that the guests, the visitors, are complying with the regulations and that the companies are doing their part as well,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said last week.

In this April 4, 2017, photo, the fountains of Bellagio erupt along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.

The fountains of Bellagio, shown here in an April 2017, photo, are to resume dancing and prancing on Thursday morning in Las Vegas.

(John Locher / Associated Press)

The Fountains of Bellagio will splash back to life at 9:15 a.m. Large, circular stickers on the sidewalk in front of the manmade lake remind people to stay six feet apart.

Along the Strip, most resort operators will unlock their doors about 10 a.m. Thursday, hopeful that folks will be eager to place their bets after a 78-day shutdown will pour in.

Don’t expect the splashy shows for which Vegas is known to reopen right away. Nearly all concerts and other performances are canceled or postponed. Comedian and TV host Trevor Noah’s July gigs at Wynn have been pushed back one year. Headliners have yet to announce when they will return.

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The future of Cirque du Soleil’s six Las Vegas shows also is uncertain; the company filed for bankruptcy because of the pandemic.

The NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders will play their first pre-season home game Aug. 27 against the Arizona Cardinals. It appears unlikely fans will be allowed inside the new Allegiant Stadium for at least the first part of the team’s first season in Vegas.

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