Colorado casinos are in a no-win situation.
They’re unable to reopen and there’s no timetable to do so. Their status remains unchanged since March 16 when brick-and-mortars were forced to close by Gov. Jared Polis ahead of his “stay at home” mandate — chaotic and unsettled.
The current “safer at home” policy took effect on May 1 and offers no timetable for casinos to reopen.
Welcome to the world of COVID-19, where the only thing certain for Colorado casinos is uncertainty.
“This has been detrimental to the casino industry in Colorado, as it has been around the country,” Peggi O’Keefe said to PlayColorado. O’Keefe is the executive director for the Colorado Gaming Association, the voice of Colorado’s casino industry. “Our casino members are very concerned and focused on their employees. And as we’ve entered into the ‘how do we reopen in this new world’ phase of things, they want to make sure that their clientele and their customers feel comfortable as well.”
When will Colorado casinos reopen?
As we enter month two of this upside-down pandemic world, patience is weighing thin across the board.
Businesses and citizens just want to go back to normal. But the “normal” of the future might look much different than the “normal” of the past.
Casinos, much like bars and nightclubs, are in a perilous position.
Customers are a vital part of their financial health. Until the health risk is minimized and people can safely gamble, there’s no way for casinos to reopen.
Casinos face a unique challenge due to their social nature, Polis said.
“The problem is they are inherently social and there is no state in the country that has figured that out,” he said last week during a daily news conference.
Polis added that he hopes Colorado can be among the first states to come up with a solution that would allow casinos, nightclubs, and bars to open again to the public in some fashion.
But until Polis and the state can find that solution, casinos will remain closed and continue to lose revenue.
Colorado is also home to tribal casinos. Tribal properties, however, are not mandated to follow orders from Gov. Polis.
As the local FOX affiliate reported last week, Colorado casinos will collectively lose $13.5 million each week they remain closed.
That’s on top of the more than $81 million in revenue casinos and sportsbooks have lost since they closed on March 16. Colorado casinos have also had to furlough countless workers in the gaming towns of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek.
Struggling casinos in Colorado and across the country did get a small dose of positivity last week when they were given a financial lifeline.
Casinos with fewer than 500 employees are now eligible to tap into a second round of federal funding. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has $310 billion in small business loans available to eligible businesses.
To highlight how unprecedented all of this is: For the first time in history, all 465 commercial casinos in the United States were closed as of March 25. An estimated 616,000 casino employees are prevented from working due to the coronavirus shutdown.
Colorado casinos are preparing for reopening
Since so much is out of their hands right now, casinos in the state have instead chosen to focus on the future by drafting a best practices policy for when they do reopen down the road, O’Keefe told PlayColorado.
Much of the preparations focus on what casinos will look like in the age of the “new normal,” where safety and health are prioritized.
“We’re working on making sure that we have our policies in place that will allow employees and customers to come back to the casinos and feel comfortable and safe and return to the entertainment aspect of the casinos and know that things are in a good place,” she said.
What will Colorado casinos look like when they reopen?
Everything is on the table for casinos as they explore possible health and social-distancing strategies, O’Keefe said.
“Are things spaced out further? Are we skipping a chair between customers? Do we provide gloves and masks to customers? What does all of that look like?” she said. “That’s the piece we’re going through right now. We’re going to work with the Governor’s office and the regulators and make sure that we’re providing as much information as we can to them in anticipation of us reopening.
“I don’t know that we know exactly what that looks like now. We’re going through the process, so I’m hopeful that we’ll have more information in the weeks to come. But it’ll be different. There’ll be changes, for sure. I don’t know how long those will last, but we want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable when they go back up to the gaming towns. Know that they can have a good time and be safe while doing it.”
Suzanne Karrer, communications manager of the Enforcement Division for the Colorado Department of Revenue, told PlayColorado that the Division of Gaming will follow the guidelines and restrictions set forth by the Governor’s office and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for the policies casinos may need in place to reopen.
“They have published guidance and restrictions for open business on their website, and the Division will take any restrictions and guidance imposed by the health department or the Governor’s office and issue industry guidelines when the time comes for the casinos to reopen,” she said.
The Wynn Las Vegas model
One major casino has already offered a glimpse of what the new normal could look like for casinos and gamblers. The Wynn Las Vegas has a detailed, 23-page plan.
The Wynn’s Health and Sanitation Program was developed with three leading public health professionals and fellows of Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities. As PlayPennsylvania noted, here are some key points of that program:
EMPLOYEE AND GUEST HEALTH
- Thermal cameras at points of entry: Anyone who has a temperature of over 100.0 will be taken for secondary screening. If an employee or guest has a temperature of over 100 they will not be allowed entry.
- A security guard will screen for masks (and provide one if needed) and ask guests to use hand sanitizer.
- Physical distancing: Guests should stand at least six feet away from people not traveling with them.
- Slot machines, restaurant tables and other layouts at the casino will be arranged to enable social distancing.
- Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the property.
- Employees instructed to wash hands or use sanitizer every sixty minutes or after certain activities.
- All employees will receive COVID-19 training.
- Employees required to wear a mask.
SLOTS MACHINE OPERATIONS
- Slot machines will be turned off and/or reconfigured with the chairs removed to allow for physical separation between guests. Casino supervisors and managers will ensure that guests do not congregate around slots.
- Slot attendants to offer to sanitize slots for guests sitting down at a machine.
- Slots to be sanitized at least once every four hours.
TABLE GAMES OPERATIONS
- Table games will have chairs removed and every other table will be open. Casino supervisors and managers will ensure that guests do not congregate in groups.
- Supervisors to sanitize table game rails after each guest leaves a game.
- Supervisors to sanitize each chair area after each guest leaves a game.
- Every other table open.
- Three chair/guest maximum per table game.
- Four chair/guest maximum per big baccarat table.
- Three players maximum on each side of dice tables.
What are other cities/states doing?
Most of the nation’s casinos are in the same holding pattern as Colorado.
However, casinos in Detroit may face the most bleak outlook in the country.
Mayor Mike Duggan recently told The Detroit News that Detroit casinos wouldn’t fully reopen until there is a coronavirus vaccine, suggesting several months of smaller capacities in the venues when they do reopen.
Similar comments or recommendations have not yet been made in Colorado by city government officials in Black Hawk, Central City, Cripple Creek or by those in the state government.
As for when there could be a vaccine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters in March that a vaccine won’t be available for widespread use for at least another 12 to 18 months.
Sports betting could help
On top of the federal aid now available for casinos that qualify, sports betting could also offer some relief for casinos that have mobile betting apps in place. Bettors in the state will drum up some business for those casinos as soon as this Saturday when UFC 249 takes place in Florida.
The stacked fight card serves as the first major event for fans to bet on since sports betting was made official on May 1.
“We have the ability to completely focus on that right now, so that’ll be exciting,” O’Keefe said. “It’s something that folks can do from the comfort of their couch and be able to know that they’re still able to have some entertainment while they’re going through the quarantine we’re in right now. It’s something we’re excited to have going, but, obviously, we want to get back to the bricks and mortar and our traditional gaming and recreation in the gaming towns as well.”
With the launch of the Fox Bet app, there are now six apps that offer sports betting in Colorado since the launch on May 1. That is out of 17 that will launch in the future.
- DraftKings: Partner with Golden Mardi Gras
- FanDuel: Partner with Golden Gates Casino
- BetMGM: Partner with Midnight Rose Hotel and Casino
- BetRivers: Partner with J.P. McGill’s Hotel and Casino
- Fox Bet: Partner with Lady Luck Casino
What is next for Colorado casinos?
Colorado casinos will continue to seek out solutions to safely reopen to the public in conjunction with state health officials.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Gaming Association will continue to put together a “best practices” strategy that takes into account any and every scenario it may encounter.
Aside from that, there isn’t much casinos can do to change the situation.
As has been the case since March 16, the only thing certain for Colorado casinos is uncertainty.