The frustration in Gail Watson’s voice is palpable.
She’s frustrated that the casinos in her county are once again without table games.
That some citizens are now forced to sit and wait again, uncertain of what their future holds.
Under guidelines from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced last week, the casinos in Black Hawk and Central City were forced to halt table games on Friday. If you went up to the gaming towns this weekend, they were not open.
That’s tied to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the county.
Gilpin County is now on Level Yellow: Concern on the COVID-19 color dial. This category falls under the “Safer At Home” category.
CDPHE sent a letter to the county last week that while incidence rates are “aligned” with Level Orange, they will gradually implement restrictions that fall under Level Yellow.
It’s not just table games that are impacted by this order.
Casinos will also have to limit capacity to 100 people and alcohol cannot be sold past 11 p.m.
Could CO casinos shut down again?
The county now has two weeks to stop the spread.
After that time, CDPHE will revisit the current status. It could get bumped to the next level (worse case scenario, “Stay At Home”) or table games could be brought back (best case scenario).
That leads to more frustration from the Gilpin County commissioner.
There’s a real possibility that casinos in Black Hawk and Central will have to close again. If the county doesn’t curb the current spread, CDPHE will have no choice.
That’s the current state of affairs in Teller County. Unlike Gilpin County, Cripple Creek has not been allowed to bring back table games. Now, because the spread of coronavirus is such a huge risk, casinos were at risk of getting closed.
According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the county commissioners pleaded their case in a Friday phone conversation with CDPHE, saying the move was made too quickly.
That appears to have worked.
On Monday evening, CDPHE changed course and will allow casinos in Cripple Creek to remain open. But there are restrictions.
According to KOAA News in Colorado Springs, those include a limit in occupancy to no more than 50 people in any room, or no more than 25% of a room’s maximum occupancy, whichever is less.
This also doesn’t mean the threat of closure is off the table. If the surge in coronavirus cases doesn’t turn around in the next two weeks, casinos in Teller County could still close.
Dire economic situation
As Watson said to PlayColorado:
“The sad reality is that if we don’t turn this around, they’re going to shut casinos down again.”
After a pause, she added what’s at stake for the casinos and county if the surge in COVID-19 cases is not curbed over the next two weeks.
“More financial pain. I think you’re aware of the financial disaster that Gilpin is going through due to the three-month closure earlier this year. Layoffs. Contraction. Just very painful cuts to the budget. If the casinos close again, we’re in the same situation where our only industry that provides more than half of our revenue (isn’t there). If they’re shut down again, it’s going to be more difficult.”
Watson’s hope, and for that matter the casinos in Black Hawk and Central City, is that people take this seriously.
Casinos in Colorado could face another dire economic situation.
To face not one, but potentially two shutdowns will make this worse.
Colorado casinos were given the green light to reopen in mid-June after being forced to close in mid-March.
“I don’t want to get into the details until we know if we’re facing it. We’re trying to impress upon everyone how important it is to stay safe. There are some people who don’t believe in wearing a mask or socially distancing, and it’s just going to have to be the way it is. The casinos, by and large, have done a great job. And now it’s just more restrictions and really adhering to all of the protocols to keep our country open. We all have to do this. I could go on and on, but it’s just a very difficult situation for Gilpin County.”
What about the table games workers?
And that doesn’t even take into account the table games workers who are now not working again.
As Watson said:
“Most of the casino workers and dealers that I’ve heard from have been concerned about their safety and their health. We have heard from one very vocal person in the county who says we shouldn’t be shutting down. But I think the majority of the casino workers are concerned for their health.”
What makes this even more difficult for the workers is there’s no federal relief on the way.
As Watson said, there’s no Cares Act II on the horizon.
“There’s no talk yet. What helped everybody get through the initial disaster was the increased payments for unemployment. The stimulus check. None of that is happening right now on the federal level. So the states are on their own. It’s just a bad situation that can even get worse. We’re just hoping that everybody takes this to heart and realizes you have to stay at home if you can. That’s a hard thing to say when we rely on people coming up to game. I think it can be done safely. People just have to all really take it to heart.”
While Watson’s frustration is palpable, so is the grim reality for her county and so many people if the situation doesn’t improve.
“And it’s not just the casinos. We’re concerned about everybody. We’re concerned about our residents and our visitors.”