Colorado casinos that are still reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are working on getting another boost.
As a result, so are the three gaming towns, two counties and, more importantly, the casino workers.
The clearance to reopen in a limited capacity on June 17 helped, but it’s not enough.
One of the limitations is the lack of table games. Currently, only slot machines are allowed in Colorado casinos.
When the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) approved the variance requests for Gilpin County and Teller County to reopen casinos in mid-June, it said it would revisit table games in three weeks.
Here we are more than three weeks later, and the casinos, and at least Gilpin County, have begun the variance request process once again. Teller County has not yet revealed its plans to the public.
As for Colorado’s tribal casinos, they remain closed. However, a hint dropped on Wednesday revealed that they may open soon.
Are Colorado casinos closer to having blackjack and poker?
As Colorado Public Radio reported on Tuesday, it appears that casino patrons are one step closer to playing blackjack and poker once again.
However, CDPHE told PlayColorado on Wednesday that it has yet to receive the variance requests from Gilpin or Teller counties. One would expect both to complete the process within the next week or so.
Another wrench was thrown into the table games variance requests on Thursday. At a news conference announcing a statewide mask mandate, Gov. Jared Polis put a pause on any new variance requests in Colorado counties for two weeks.
Once that timeline is met, the state will revisit where it stands and whether to start considering variance requests again.
David Farahi, president of the Colorado Gaming Association and Monarch Casino and Resort COO, told PlayColorado:
“I think there are a fairly significant number of guests who don’t come up because they’re table games players. And they may have a companion who likes to play slots, but they don’t come up because tables aren’t available. So, there are certainly people who are not coming to the casinos because we don’t have table games.
“And, on top of that, one of our largest departments in the industry is table game dealers. There are thousands of table game dealers in the state, and they still haven’t got called back to work. I think it impacts those two groups of people a fair amount.”
Tug of war ensues
The tug of war is between the need to add table games while doing so safely for guests and workers.
As Gilpin County Commissioner Gail Watson told PlayColorado:
“It’s a bit of a conundrum for us. It’s a difficult decision because we want everyone to be safe. Both our residents who work in the casinos and those who travel into the county to work at the casinos, as well as all of the visitors.
“At the same time, we are experiencing a disaster in terms of revenue loss. We had to close our parks and rec department, close our community center, and lay off 79 people because of the impact from the casinos being closed for three months.
“We don’t know what the revenue has been yet for the month of June, where (casinos) were open from June 17 on, but we know that our revenue is going to be down because of the restrictions and the lack of table games. So we’re walking that tightrope between safety and revenue generation.”
Colorado casinos look to other states
In order to make that happen, Farahi said Colorado casino operators looked to how other states have reopened with table games.
As Farahi said:
“To my knowledge, every other state that has opened casinos has opened table games at the same time as slot machines. So what casinos did was provide best practices that have been learned from other states. How to open table games in the safest way possible. Whether that means limiting seating at tables, requiring masks, chip cleaning procedures, card replacement procedures. The way that the casinos I think helped was just by providing information to the county on what other states are doing.”
No timetable for a table games decision
Watson laid out what the CPDHE will look for as it decides whether to approve the variance request.
She told PlayColorado that Gilpin contracts with Jefferson County Public Health to use its services. Watson said Gilpin’s variance request has to first be approved by Jefferson County Public Health. So, that could help explain why CDPHE has yet to receive the request.
She also said Gilpin County instituted a face mask requirement for anyone in the county who can’t achieve 6 feet of distance from other people.
Neither Watson nor Farahi have an indication on how long the process will take.
As Watson said:
“I did ask (on Tuesday) if there is any indication of how long their variance process is taking now, but we don’t know. So it goes to CDPHE and they consider all of the situations on the ground. The number of beds and ventilators available. The number of cases.
“Gilpin has been incredibly fortunate to have only eight cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. We do have community testing now, so people are getting tested. We don’t have a hospital, but the hospital in the surrounding communities has available beds — they’re not overwhelmed. So, we’re hoping the situation in the region will allow them to consider opening table games.”
Colorado casinos playing wait-and-see
Once the variance requests have been sent to CDPHE, then casinos in Colorado will wait and see. The other possible lifeline out there for Colorado casinos and the gaming towns is Initiative No. 257.
If and when the variance requests are approved, it will serve as a huge boost for all involved. Now that there’s a two-week pause on variance requests, the delay continues for the foreseeable future.
As Watson said:
“We don’t know what will happen. But we’re hoping that since the casinos are being very cautious right now, and adhering to the protocols for cleaning, distancing and mask-wearing, we can try to open up the casinos a bit more.”