By KayLynn Roberts-McMurray
Ely Times

It was Sunday, Mother’s Day, restaurants had dine-in customers, things were beginning to feel like maybe life was getting back to normal. Gov. Steve Sisolak had lifted several restrictions as Nevada moved into Phase 1 of reopening.

This phase included restaurants reopening to dine-in customers.

But by Wednesday, May 13, things changed. An agent with the Gaming Control Board contacted all casino owners with the hard hitting news that any restaurant inside a casino had to close the inside of the restaurant and go back to curbside pick-up only.

For some, it was like one step forward, and 3 steps back. Dine-out, curbside and delivery was still available, but it wasn’t the same as having a dining experience.

Catherine Tousey was in Margaritas that morning, visiting with the owner, Jorge de la Cerda, when he received the bad news. “Cerda pled with the Gaming Control Board officer, explaining that he had a separate entrance to the restaurant from the casino but was told that wouldn’t work. He was crushed,” Tousey said.

Non-restricted gaming facilities that had restaurants were the focus on the closure of restaurants located inside, while restricted establishments with a limited amount of machines, were still able to operate. Although it wasn’t part of the directive, and it wasn’t written anywhere the verbal order was enough to create a stir in the community.

A business owner herself, contractor for the State of Nevada, and former teacher of Cerda’s, Tousey jumped into action by writing a letter to the editor, but she didn’t stop there. She began contacting the Gaming Control Board, and the Governor’s office via telephone and email. Part of her letter stated, “I’m not usually this type of person, but this seems to be a total overreach of authority.” “I am quite sure that this is not what you intended when I listened to your speech about gradual reopening.”

A large effort by several locals created social media posts encouraging locals to contact the Governor’s office and ask for the restaurants to be opened back up.

Eureka County Commission Chair, J.J. Goicoechea who represents rural counties on the new Advisory Panel called LEAP and other members of the panel began coordinating efforts with the Gaming Control Board, the Governor’s Office and County Commission members from rural counties to devise a plan that would work to reopen restaurants inside casinos.

One day later, Margaritas, Evah’s, Denny’s and the Jailhouse Cell Block Steakhouse had been contacted and informed they could reopen their restaurants for dine-in customers.

Sisolak acknowledged that opening restaurants inside casinos was meant for rural communities that don’t have a lot of dining options.

In a press conference Sisolak said, “A lot of the smaller communities, and here is where we are trying to handle this on an individual basis, and for example–when the First Lady and I were in Ely, we ate in the Denny’s in the Hotel, there aren’t a lot of restaurants in the whole town, and that is why we did what we did to try to accommodate that. They have made special accommodations in regards to entrances and exits, and restroom facilities, and I don’t know how many you are going to see open in Washoe or Clark, but in the smaller communities they were a central place for eating in those towns and that’s why we did it.”

Tousey said: “I learned our community is willing to rally behind local people and businesses. City and County officials will go to bat for our community and business owners when they need to. I’m really happy to know that more of our restaurants can now reopen, we all know they don’t only feed us, they are the places where we can see each other and connect, even if it’s a little farther apart than usual for awhile.”