South Lake Tahoe’s casino market is slowly resuming activity after the Caldor fire forced a week-long halt to gaming and tourism operations just ahead of what was to be a busy Labor Day weekend .
Most of the mandatory evacuations that covered both the California and Nevada sides of the Lake Tahoe area had been canceled on Tuesday. Hard Rock Lake Tahoe reopened its gambling hall Tuesday afternoon and MontBleu Casino Resort reopened its property Wednesday morning.
A spokesperson for the Nevada Gaming Control Board said in an email Wednesday that Harrah’s Tahoe would reopen its casino in phases, with slots operations resuming Wednesday night and table games opening Thursday night. Harveys Lake Tahoe won’t reopen until next week.
Both casinos are operated by Caesars Entertainment. Company spokespersons did not respond to email requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
Hard Rock Lake Tahoe is operated by Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming, while Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corp. operates MontBleu. The properties were used by firefighters and first responders last week as command centers, including accommodation for firefighters. A spokeswoman for Bally’s said the complex is home to 150 firefighters.
“The decision to open tonight was in part to help their team members get back to normal and simply get them back to their daily routines,” according to a statement sent out Tuesday night by Hard Rock’s external public relations representative.
Stateline Casinos were expecting a busy end to a busy summer weekend in an area known the world over for its outdoor recreation and scenic Lake Tahoe, as well as gaming. However, game operators also began to prepare for the worst a week earlier, canceling scheduled entertainment – including the Eric Church and Phish concerts – as the blaze spread across California.
Gaming revenue in South Lake Tahoe increased 27% through July compared to the first seven months of 2019, according to the Gaming Control Board.
The Associated Press reported last week that several businesses outside the fire zone were facing criticism for their price-raising activities. Inside the fire zone, the 438-room MontBleu offered reduced rates for evacuees, rates of $ 60 for firefighters and first responders, and free accommodation for its employees displaced by the fire.
However, the Associated press reported that MontBleu has also increased its regular room prices more than two and a half times the normal rate to discourage tourists from traveling near the wildfire and to keep rooms available for evacuees. In a statement, MontBleu chief executive Tim Tretton said the company plans to refund the difference to those who booked at the higher price, he said.
“We do not and do not plan to charge on these rates, and have provided refunds or discounts where applicable,” Tretton said.
From Tuesday morning, according to The Associated Press, Caldor’s fire was about 49 percent contained and authorities had not scheduled full containment until September 27. It burned 216,000 acres, including parts of Christmas Valley, Meyers, and other areas south of the lake. The fire burned a few miles south of South Lake Tahoe, but never came close to shore.