No Longer Waiting To Exhale: Colorado Casinos Get Go-Ahead To Reopen

Posted on June 12, 2020

That blast of air hitting your face earlier this week wasn’t the wind, but the heavy exhale from Colorado casinos.

Of three gaming towns.

From two counties.

And their casino workers.

It was announced earlier this week that Gilpin and Teller counties finally had their variance requests approved; essentially, an exemption from the state’s “safer-at-home” policy. That gives Cripple Creek casinos the green light to open on Monday (June 15) and Black Hawk and Central City casinos on Wednesday (June 17).

While these casinos will reopen next week, there’s no update on when the tribal casinos will do so.

Months of anxiousness and frustration related to the COVID-19 pandemic that closed CO casinos on March 17 is being replaced with excitement.

Gilpin County Commissioner Gail Watson said to PlayColorado:

“An estimated half of our residents work in the gaming industry, and we’ve heard from many of them that they are anxious to get back to work. We are hopeful to see a return to normalcy and to the return of much-needed revenue, but need to emphasize that the safety and well-being of our visitors, employees and residents (are) paramount.”

Reopening guidelines for Colorado casinos

There are restrictions in place from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). In other words, Colorado casinos get to reopen, but things aren’t back to normal just yet.

The Colorado Gaming Association (CGA) worked extensively with the state to get to this point. The sole purpose is to create safe working and entertainment environments to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Monarch Casino COO David Farahi said “a ton” of work has gone into preparing Monarch Casino and Resort. Monarch Casino will open at 8 am Wednesday.

“That’s kind of what we’ve been doing for the last two months, preparing for this day. A lot of people (are) working really hard,” said Farahi, who is also president of the CGA.

Initially, patrons will only be able to play slots. Table games are not yet an option; but, the CDPHE will consider them again in three weeks.

The new operational guidelines include:

  • Casino patrons must maintain 6 feet of social distancing.
  • The capacity limit is 50%.
  • Gatherings can’t exceed 175 people indoors.
  • Gatherings can’t exceed 250 people in any outdoor setting.
  • Casino staff members are to wear face coverings.
  • Casinos must post signage on doors that direct guests who are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms not to enter.

“The division will work with the industry to service their needs to license the staff necessary to reopen their facilities,” Suzanne Karrer, the communications manager of the Enforcement Division for the Colorado Department of Revenue, said to PlayColorado.

“The division has created online opportunities for casino employees to apply and renew their licenses. For certain license types, we will begin taking in-person license applications by appointment only, adhering to state and local health and safety guidelines.”

Colorado casinos look at other gaming markets

So, while there is excitement over casinos finally reopening, there is still a level of uncertainty.

The coronavirus hasn’t gone away. In fact, some states are seeing a resurgence.

The vice president of operations for Century Casinos, Eric Rose, said to PlayColorado, “We are excited to welcome back our employees and customers.”

Century Casino & Hotel Cripple Creek will open Monday, and Century Casino & Hotel Black Hawk on Wednesday. Rose continued:

“Health and safety will be top priority. Of course, there is plenty of uncertainty due to COVID-19. We know we can manage the safety and health while, at the same time, have fun. The new normal is living with COVID-19 and being able to do the things we love to do.”

What helps the Colorado casinos is they aren’t the first to reopen. According to the American Gaming Association‘s COVID-19 Casino Tracker, there are more than 600 casinos open across the US.

Farahi said Monarch and the CGA are looking at regional gaming markets to spot similar trends. As Farahi said, put the Las Vegas Strip aside. Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek are regional gaming markets. Vegas is not.

Monarch Casino is one of many Colorado casinos that have some vision of how to ensure a safe opening.

“You never know for sure until you reopen,” Farahi said. “I think we have some idea of how things are going to go. We reopened our Reno property last Thursday, and it was a fairly smooth reopening. A lot of the things that we’re going to do here in Colorado, we did in Reno as well. There is a bit of a learning curve. We are retraining all of our team members. We’re testing all of our team members this Friday and Saturday. We’re doing the best we can to ensure a safe opening.”

Colorado casinos excited yet still uncertain

Yet even with the restrictions and uncertainty, the reopening of Colorado casinos is vital for them and also for the cities, counties, state and casino workers.

According to Watson, gaming is Gilpin County’s only industry. It provides more than half of the annual revenue.

“Every month that the casinos are closed, we lose an estimated $1 million in gaming tax revenue,” she said. “Allowing the casinos to open with the necessary safety precautions puts us on the long road back to financial recovery. It also allows our residents who work in the casinos to return to work.”

Since Colorado casinos closed in mid-March, the state has likely lost $17 million in taxes. And that was as of the end of May.

Since gaming is the primary economic engine for the state’s three gaming towns, the financial fallout has been brutal.

Paul Harris said at the May 21 Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission (CLGCC) meeting that the closures turned Cripple Creek into a “ghost town.” Harris is the finance director for the city of Cripple Creek.

“I think we’re all excited to get reopened,” Farahi said. “Our team members are excited to get back to work. And I know we hear from our guests who are excited to come back up the hill. So a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation.”

Breath of fresh air

Now that Colorado casinos (finally) have the green light to open, the hope is this is another step closer to a return to normalcy, which includes the return to retail sports betting in Colorado.

“The division is excited to see the gaming industry reopen in Colorado and to get the industry moving again,” Karrer said. “With the opening of online sports betting operators during the casino closure, the division is also looking forward to the introduction of retail sportsbooks in the casinos as they begin to reopen their operations.”

For the first time in three months, Colorado casinos, gaming towns, counties and casino workers will be able to finally exhale a sigh of relief.

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Ian St. Clair

Ian St. Clair is an award-winning sports journalist. He is a University of Northern Colorado graduate, Colorado native and has over a decade of experience covering college and professional athletics.

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