Muted and vacant, Las Vegas struggles to survive shutdown

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In this April 18, 2020, photo, a lone worker wearing a mask cleans a pedestrian walkway devoid of the usual crowds as casinos and other business are shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak in Las Vegas. Nevada's governor closed the glitzy casinos and nightlife attractions in mid-March, leaving much of the famous gambling mecca empty, barricaded and abandoned. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS – Slot machines are powered down, casinos boarded up and barricaded.

Sidewalks are largely deserted and electronic marquees that once flashed neon calls for nightclubs, magic shows and topless revues instead beam somber messages of safety.

The famous fountains of the Bellagio casino, where water choreographed to lights and music shoots hundreds of feet in the air, are still. Throngs of visitors who made it tough to maneuver on sidewalks have been replaced by the occasional jogger or skateboarder.

On the always busy, always noisy, never sleeping Las Vegas strip, you can now hear birds chirping.

“It’s crazy,” said Chris Morehouse, a 70-year-old Elvis impersonator who spent a recent afternoon sipping Miller High Life and posing with a few locals who took advantage of the eerie silence to take photos at the neon-bedecked welcome sign on the Las Vegas Strip. “It’s like the end of the world.”

Instead of hosting throngs of visitors for one of the busiest seasons of the year, with March Madness drawing swarms to sportsbooks, or the now-scuttled plan to host the NFL draft this weekend, ferrying players in boats to a red carpet stage on the Bellagio lake, Las Vegas is trying to survive.

Nevada’s tourism, leisure, hospitality and gambling industry accounts for one in three jobs in the state - making the state more dependent on tourism than Alaska on oil.

Workers are expected to lose $7.7 billion in wages and salaries over the next 18 months if the tourism industry is shuttered between 30 and 90 days, according to a study from the Nevada Resort Association.