Colorado Casinos In Government Limbo When It Comes To Reopening

Posted on June 5, 2020 - Last Updated on June 16, 2020

Colorado casinos have been closed since March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While other businesses across the state are slowly opening up, casinos are not among them. Moreover, there is no timetable for them to reopen.

What CO casinos need to reopen

When Colorado restaurants, bars, gyms, and casinos closed their doors in March, it meant they had to wait for permission to open back up.

On May 22, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced that restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and places of worship could reopen as long as they met specific safety requirements. Absent from the list were bars and casinos.

In order for casinos to reopen, Gilpin and Teller counties, where all but two Colorado casinos are located, need to have a variance approved by the CDPHE. A variance is basically an exemption from Colorado’s “safe-at-home” restrictions. Teller County had its first request denied in late May.

What safety measures are casinos taking?

What do the safety plans the counties are proposing look like? Gilpin County Commissioner Ron Engels told the Denver Post that the county would go so far as to block off urinals in the men’s restrooms to maintain social distancing.

Monarch Casino and Resort Chief Operating Officer David Farahi outlined his casino’s plans to PlayColorado:

“Our current draft protocols include temperature checks for all team members, vendors and guests when entering the resort. All team members, vendors, and guests will wear masks or cloth face coverings while on property. To ensure social distancing, the property will limit occupancy and every other adjacent slot machine will be turned off. Hand sanitizer dispenser units will be placed at key guest and team member contact areas too.”

Wildwood Casino General Manager Matt Andrighetti told the Denver Post they plan on taking people’s temperatures upon entering and also have invested in ultraviolet light equipment for disinfection. Wildwood will have cleaning crews keeping slot machines and high-touch areas clean as much as possible, as well.

Colorado casinos hurting financially

There is no question the financial toll the shutdown has had on Gilpin and Teller counties has been massive. Engels told the Post that “of the people who work in Gilpin County, 90% work in casinos.” Gilpin’s unemployment rate was 23% in April, second only to Pitkin County, which was 23.1%, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

When it comes to taxes, the numbers tell the story as well. In March 2019, the state took in $12.2 million from the state’s casinos. In March of this year, that number dropped to $5 million. With the casinos being shuttered for the entire month of April, it fell to zero.

Cary Walker, a senior financial analyst for the public accounting firm RubinBrown, estimated Colorado casinos have lost at least $100 million in revenue through the end of April. And, he called that a “conservative” estimate.

Tribal casinos in CO playing by different rules

The two tribal casinos in the state, Sky Ute Casino and Ute Mountain Casino, remain closed, though it is key to note that they are not required to follow the state’s orders laid out by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Either casino can reopen whenever they deem it appropriate to do so, which is what some tribal casinos across the country have done. And while there was a message on Sky Ute Casino’s website saying its casino floor had reopened, when contacted by COSportsBooks, they confirmed that was an error. Instead, they remain closed and there is no reopening date as of yet.

Taylor Osieczanek Avatar
Written by
Taylor Osieczanek

Taylor Osieczanek is a Colorado native who got his start in journalism working in the sports department at the Rocky Mountain News while still in high school. He also worked at the Boulder Daily Camera. A Metro State graduate, Osieczanek enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife Jennifer and their dog Bogey, reading and working out.

View all posts by Taylor Osieczanek