Publisher’s Perspective: Do casinos reopening spur concerns over visitor activity? (Opinion) |

Publisher’s Perspective: Do casinos reopening spur concerns over visitor activity? (Opinion)

As I write this, three of the four large casinos (Bally’s/Montbleu, Hard Rock, and Harrah’s) in Stateline have opened back up after either closing outright, or reducing operations while continuing to serve the emergency responders that have done so much to protect communities in the wake of the Caldor Fire. Harveys is expected to open next week.

Rob Galloway

If you gauge their reopening by feedback across social channels, it is definitely a mixed bag of emotions. After an unprecedented evacuation of the greater south shore, what’s the right balance to strike when it comes to reopening? It ultimately boils down to getting people back to work and a return to normalcy vs. the safety of the community. Sounds like 2020 all over again, doesn’t it?

While slightly different than what was experienced during COVID’s initial surge, I can see both sides of the coin.

Starting with the obvious, the threat of the Caldor Fire is still very real. Many homes have been destroyed and the scar on the Sierra Nevada landscape is still growing. Thankfully, there have been no reported lives lost to the fire, but it continues to knock on the door of Meyers and Christmas Valley, and still burns on the ridges and mountains around Echo and Desolation Wilderness.

Containment doesn’t mean extinguished. Amazing work by fire crews has kept the blaze mostly at bay the past few days, but it’s wildfire. We must remain alert and aware, as all it takes is one far-reaching ember to strike up another threat.

The downgrading of mandatory to warning evacuations was a great relief to many, but there are still communities that cannot yet return because of the possible danger. There in lies the concern.

Does the opening of some of the largest employers and accommodations for visitors push those concerns to the side? If there were another danger and evacuations had to happen again, would it lead to yet another clogged artery of a highway with visitors populating traffic that shouldn’t have been there in the first place?

Highway 50 is closed. The main detour in a case like this would be Highway 88 – which is also closed. If visitors really wanted to get to South Lake Tahoe from that direction, they would need to go all the way around on Highway 80. Are visitors that desperate to get an injection of Lake Tahoe? If COVID taught us anything, it’s that no matter what the circumstance, they will travel to Tahoe.

I think this is different, though. Just because the casinos are open, I don’t think we’ll see the same swath of visitors we saw during the pandemic – the last time we told people that visiting Lake Tahoe should be postponed.

In a release from the Hard Rock Hotel Casino they state, “The property’s decision to open tonight was in part to help their team members return to normalcy and simply get them back to their daily routines. If by opening their doors the Hard Rock can be a respite for others, especially the local Lake Tahoe residents, the property will be ready to welcome them.”

Similarly, the release from Caesars (Harrah’s and Harveys) said they look forward to welcoming their team members back to both properties.

Getting people back to work after being evacuated and not able to earn income is a necessity to many residents. Getting people back to work probably doesn’t mean they are turning away visitors. They are casinos after all. They weren’t built on charity.

But, say what you will, the casinos, are in many ways a gateway drug to the Tahoe experience. Visitors stay and experience them, but during those stays, they are driving business to others in the basin. That’s the blueprint for not just the south shore, but also all of Tahoe.

So by casinos being open, and welcoming an unknown number of visitors, the trickle down effect to other businesses will happen. Not a bad thing by any means, but it’s just at what cost to the safety of the community.

I cannot say what the fire will or won’t do. I don’t think anyone can at this point – there are too many potential variables. But, if people are allowed to return home and businesses are allowed to reopen, why should casinos be any different? Keep in mind, the Douglas County side is not under even an evacuation warning at this time.

Because they are casinos they often get cast in a bad light. While I’m not making them out to be angels, I think with all of the factors at play, them opening their doors is not a bat signal, hoping to drive as many visitors as they can to the lake. I think they understand the situation for what it is and if they can get people back to work while also maintaining a bottom line of business, it benefits more than just them.

Factoring in both main passages being closed to visitors, I don’t think the town is going to get overrun to the point it becomes a safety issue. If, and when, Highway 50 and 88 do open, it should indicate that all folks are back in their homes, evacuations have been lifted, and everyone can breather easier. Literally.

Publisher Rob Galloway can be reached at or 530-542-8046.


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