Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg told CNBC on Thursday the return of business conventions to Las Vegas looks promising after a coronavirus pandemic-induced slowdown.
“Our forward bookings both for the second half of this year and into  are extremely strong,” Reeg said in an interview with CNBC’s Contessa Brewer on “The Exchange.” “Business groups are wanting to come back. We’ve just got to make sure that we can accommodate them,” added Reeg.
Caesars is approaching future events with more uncertainty than before the pandemic, according to Reeg. One on the near-term horizon is the World of Concrete, which is set to be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in early June. The event for the concrete and masonry industries has drawn over 60,000 people in pre-Covid years.
“We’re presuming more attrition than normal for any group that is booked coming up. We just don’t know how quickly people are going to come back,” Reeg said.
Caesars shares rose almost 4% in Thursday’s session to roughly $96 apiece. The stock is up 28% so far this year and up about 425% in the past 12 months.
Las Vegas was hit hard by the pandemic as health restrictions meant to slow the virus spread led to mandatory closures of hotels, casinos and restaurants in the tourism-reliant city. After a relaxation, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak implemented more strict virus mitigation measures in November in response to rising coronavirus cases.
“The case rates here were pretty scary, to be candid. As the cases pulled back, we’ve seen the restrictions ease and we’ve seen business come back,” Reeg said, adding he hopes continued improvement in the public health situation can lead to “further loosening that would allow us to offer full services to all of our group business that’s coming.”
“You’re certainly … going to be wearing masks for the foreseeable future,” he added.
As Covid vaccinations have accelerated this year, casino operators are seeing positive signs for their businesses. Last month, Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden told CNBC he was seeing “revenues and volumes that I haven’t seen in years.”
Caesars — which says it’s the largest casino-entertainment company in the country — saw a really strong pickup in demand beginning in February, Reeg said. At its regional properties, located in numerous states including Indiana, Iowa and Arizona, the recovery has been “extraordinary,” Reeg said. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there.”
Public health officials in the U.S. have continued to stress to Americans that, despite progress on vaccines, the nation’s Covid recovery still faces challenges, such as highly contagious variants. The trajectory of the pandemic in Michigan, in particular, is causing concern.
“This is a critical moment in our fight against the pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rachelle Walensky said last week. “We can’t afford to let our guard down.”