- Colorado casinos have been closed since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Despite the closure of the casinos and of gaming regulator offices the state was able to launch mobile sports betting on May 1 as planned.
- Casinos in Cripple Creek will reopen on June 15. Gaming properties in Central City and Black Hawk will reopen on June 17.
As has been the case in most gaming jurisdictions, the closures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic have been disastrous for Colorado’s casinos. Fortunately, the nightmare scenario is starting to come to an end. The 12 casinos in Cripple Creek will reopen on Monday, June 15. Two days later, casinos in Central City and Black Hawk will get back to business. The reason for the different reopening days–Cripple Creek is in Teller County, the other two gaming towns are in Gilpin County.
Teller County had approached the state health department for a variance that would allow them to reopen casinos in mid-May but had their request denied. The county was allowed to reopen restaurants and gyms but forced to keep bars and gambling properties closed. Now both counties have submitted acceptable variance requests to the state health department which have been approved by director Jill Hunsaker Ryan. If you’re interested in some of the gaming specific variances approved by the state you can read them here:
SEVERE LIMITS ON THE OPERATION OF CASINOS
The news is not all good and the state Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has hamstrung the gaming properties with some significant limits on their operations. Casinos will not be allowed to offer table games at this time and capacity has also been limited with an arbitrary cap of 175 customers in any ‘confined indoor space’. So what exactly constitutes a ‘closed indoor space’? I’m hoping they have at least some operational definition though I was unable to find any guidance on the poorly organized and maintained Department of Public Health website. The number is presumably based on a health department dictum for 28 square feet per visitor.
Since Colorado’s casinos vary widely in size and capacity what exactly does the 175 customer limit mean? David Fahari, COO of Monarch Casino Resort, provides this explanation:
“It’s not 175 per building. So each floor could be a confined indoor space.”
If you think that the vague definition of ‘confined indoor space’ is a loophole big enough to drive a tour bus through you are correct. Not only could each floor be considered one ‘confined indoor space’ gaming property managers are creating temporary configurations to increase the number of ‘confined indoor spaces’ and thus the number of customers allowed. Since the state’s gaming licensees have seen their businesses financially devastated by government edict they’re more than justified in exploiting every loophole they can find.
CASINOS HOPING FOR BRISK BUSINESS OPEN REOPENING
Monarch Casino Resort’s Fahari is hopeful for brisk business upon the reopening of the Monarch Casino Black Hawk. The company also owns the Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada and that experience along with media reports of a strong reopening of the Silver State’s gaming industry hopefully bodes well for Colorado. For now, he overseeing the reopening effort in Black Hawk:
“I think we will see more of the same here in Colorado. We are spending the next 10 days training and testing our teams so we can make everything as safe as possible for our guests and employees.”
There is some good news–according to Peggi O’Keefe with the Colorado Gaming Association it doesn’t appear that any casinos were lost permanently to the COVID-19 shutdown:
“That’s been a huge concern, particularly for the smaller casinos but I have not heard of any that are not going to reopen. I’m hopeful that folks will be able to make up for lost ground. It’s a 50% occupancy cap, so I’m hoping that’s enough for even our smaller casinos to get their employees back and get customers back up. We feel really comfortable that the plan we have in place will be successful and we will be able to educate them to the new rules and regulations.”