FILE - In this April 12, 2020, file photo, Norma Urrabazo prays while wearing a facemask before speaking at an Easter drive-in service at the International Church of Las Vegas in Las Vegas. The Trump administration is warning Nevada's Democratic governor that his plan for reopening the state during recovery from the coronavirus fails to treat religious and secular gatherings equally. In a letter sent Monday, May 25, 2020, to Gov. Steve Sisolak, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division took issue with the first phase of Sisolak's guidelines for restarting economic and social activity in the state. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Nevada to reopen casinos June 4, welcoming tourists again

May 26, 2020 - 11:25 pm

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that he would allow casinos to reopen June 4, welcoming tourists to return to the glitzy gambling mecca of Las Vegas.

“We welcome the visitors from across the country to come here, to have a good time, no different than they did previously, but we're gonna be cautious," Sisolak told reporters.

The governor said he would also allow in-person religious services of up to 50 people starting Friday.

As part of a broad shutdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Sisolak took the unprecedented step 10 weeks ago of shutting casinos that typically draw millions of tourists to Las Vegas and power the state's economy.

By allowing the casinos to reopen, with new rules on social distancing and sanitizing, Sisolak said Nevada would again welcome visitors but would be prepared to close down again if there is a spike in cases.

“We’ve taken every precaution possible. I don’t think you’re going to find a safer place to come than Las Vegas by June 4, with the protocols that we've put in place, than the testing that we've put in place, with the contact tracing that will be in place by that time," Sisolak said. “We're encouraging visitors to come and enjoy themselves and have a good time.”

The governor’s announcement came after he canceled a planned news conference because he may have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus last week.

Sisolak said he learned earlier Tuesday that a workplace he visited last week has since had a worker test positive for COVID-19. The worker was not in the building at the time and the governor has shown no symptoms of the virus in the five days since his potential exposure, he said.

Sisolak said he planned to take a test for the virus Wednesday morning and would release the results when he has them.

The Democratic governor instead released a statement of his prepared remarks and held a phone call with reporters Tuesday night from the governor’s mansion in Carson City, where he says he is quarantining until he gets results.

Along with the announcement on casinos and religious gatherings, the governor said he would allow gatherings of up to 50 people, while still asking people to wear masks in public and socially distance. Gyms, fitness studios, movie theaters, shopping malls and bars would be allowed to reopen May 29, but with restrictions.

Brothels, night clubs and strip clubs must remain closed.

The Trump administration this week warned Sisolak that the initial phases of his reopening plan failed to treat religious and secular gatherings equally.

That phased-in reopening restricted the size of in-person worship services, while allowing restaurants and other secular establishments to reopen with less stringent occupancy restrictions, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights said in a letter sent to the governor Monday.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband last week sent a similar warning letter from the Justice Department alleging discriminatory treatment in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom later released guidelines for resuming in-person religious services in his state.

Last week, one of the nearly 200 churches that asked Sisolak in a May 14 letter to lift the ban on in-person worship services filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking a restraining order prohibiting the state from enforcing the ban.

Lawyers for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley in rural Lyon County east of Reno said the Christian church has patiently waited more than two months for Sisolak to restore its First Amendment freedoms.

But “instead of prioritizing religious freedom, the governor has moved `non-essential’ secular businesses and activities to the front of the line and pushed churches towards the back,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit highlighted what it characterized as a disparity of limitations imposed on churches while retail establishments were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity, restaurants were given the go-ahead for resuming on-site dining and permission was granted to "open the doors of nail care salons, hair salons and barber shops.”

“This is unconstitutional and makes no sense,” the lawsuit said.

The letter to Sisolak came three days after President Donald Trump declared houses of worship essential during the pandemic and vowed to try to override governors who don't abide by his call to permit religious organizations to resume in-person services.

Holding faith-based gatherings to a different standard runs the risk of infringing upon constitutional rights if the state fails to meet certain legal prerequisites, Dreiband warned Sisolak in his letter. He urged the governor to amend his treatment of religious organizations in his order.

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Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Scott Sonner in Reno and Elana Schor in New York contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to say the governor was expected to speak later Tuesday, not Monday.

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