The Professional Bull Riders’ Monster Energy Team Challenge set up camp at South Point Hotel & Casino in June. (Courtesy Bull Stock Media)

With state ban on large gatherings in place, venues prepare (and one goes fanless)

The lights came back on at some Las Vegas resorts June 4 after the COVID-19 shutdown, but so far the city’s large live performance venues remain dark. That includes theaters that have become homes to superstar residencies and in some cases are connected to resort hotels and casinos already up and running.

No date has been announced for those rooms to resume entertaining Vegas visitors. A recent rise in positive cases prompted Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak to announce June 24 that the state would remain in Phase 2 of its reopening, which limits gatherings to 50 people, but some venues are well into planning for their return.

Caesars Entertainment, which runs two destination theaters for residencies, the 4,298-capacity Colosseum at Caesars Palace and the 7,000-capacity Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood, is working with authorities on when and how it will reopen, as well as with entertainers who are eager to get back on the stage, said Damian Costa, vice president of entertainment operations for the company’s western division, in an email earlier in June.

Social distancing is key to Caesars preparations. “We are planning for a selection of lower to midsize capacity shows to either operate at reduced capacity for the time being or be moved into larger venues to allow the show to proceed while complying with appropriate social distancing,” Costa said. “This will serve as a solid bridge to the time when we can return operating shows at their prior seating configurations.”

Proper distance between attendees will be marked for entry to the theaters and egress after the show will be structured to avoid crowding, Costa said. This will accompany other approved health and safety measures including temperature checks and mask requirements for employees and hand sanitizer stations throughout the facilities. Guests will be encouraged to wear face coverings.

As a resort giant in Vegas, Caesars has opened only some of its locations, with others available to go online as demand dictates. Caesars Palace, home of the Colosseum, was among the first resorts to open. Residencies on Colosseum’s schedule in the fall include Rod Stewart, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban and Sting.

Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, where Zappos Theater can be found, remains closed but is accepting reservations starting July 2. Among that building’s residency headliners are Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera.

Fellow Strip titan MGM Resorts International has followed the same strategy of reopening some properties and waiting on others. Its Park Theater, which seats 5,200 for residency shows, is part of the Park MGM resort, which is set to open in mid-July. Park Theater residencies include Lady Gaga, Aerosmith and Cher. An MGM Resorts executive did not reply to an email for comment.

Less than 10 miles down Las Vegas Boulevard, South Point Hotel & Casino has a 4,600-seat venue that’s already been open, if not for ticket-buying customers. 

The facility is a small arena rather than a theater, and it’s where Professional Bull Riders held its Monster Energy Team Challenge season on June weekends without fans. The competitions were televised on outlets including CBS and CBS Sports Network.

GM Steve Stallworth said that his venue does about a dozen ticketed events a year but that its bread and butter is participatory events that help fill rooms at the resort, which is among the Vegas hotels that have reopened.

Until those return, he said, it was good to have the PBR in residence during June.

With no fans and the PBR staff in quarantine for the duration between their hotel rooms and the arena, “We set up our entire concourse for the bull riders,” Stallworth said, “and they (had) TVs and video games. We put up a pool table out there, a pingpong table, a basketball hoop, a poker table.”

Like other Vegas resorts, South Point has used the down time to cross some projects off its to-do list, including installing big new Daktronics videoboards. “We replaced our I-15 marquee and our Las Vegas Boulevard marquee,” Stallworth said, a project with a price tag that topped $2 million.