A Quick Trip to Socially Distant Black Hawk and Central City Casinos

Casinos in Gilpin County are open for business, but if you think you’ll be able to get around county-mandated safety protocols by sheer force of will, think again. I visited casinos in both cities today and I can tell you they are not messing around.

All non-tribal Colorado casinos reopened this week after being closed for three months due to state-mandated coronavirus safety precautions. I took my first drive up to Black Hawk and Central City in months on Friday morning, two days after the Gilpin County Health Department variance allowing casinos to open went into effect.

The experience was quite different from what I was used to. Casinos are already more driven by procedure than most places, but now that procedure has gone into overdrive in the name of safety.

Outside The Casinos

Any casino with an exterior digital display was lit up with alternating welcome back greetings and safety tips. The big screen above the Monarch Casino entrance simply said “Please Help Maintain Social Distancing.” Outside the Lady Luck Casino, the screen read in big red letters “WE ARE OPEN,” which it followed with an accommodating “When you’re ready, we’re here to celebrate your return.”

Getting Through The Front Door

Upon entry each guest must stop and take a temperature and I.D. check, administered by one or more mask-wearing employees, usually behind a podium of some kind. This is not optional.

Each casino I visited took a different approach. Monarch Casino in Black Hawk checked my I.D. and took my temperature with a no-touch handheld digital thermometer. The employee told me they have to re-screen people anytime they step outside and come back. I asked her if people had been cooperative about the mask wearing, she said it was “a mix,” with some people resisting the requirement to wear one.

She said anyone refusing to wear a mask would be denied entry and anyone who takes theirs off while inside is subject to removal from the casino.

Up the road in Central City, Century Casino also took my temperature using a similar device. The pathway to their podium was dotted with red stickers spaced six feet apart, reminding guests to remain socially distant.

Back in Black Hawk at The Red Dolly Casino, I was instructed to stand on a little red square on the floor by the entrance while an expensive-looking camera on top of a nearby bank of slot machines took my picture and temperature. I wasn’t a loyalty program member, so I had to give my phone number. When I asked why, she said “just in case we need to know who was here, because of Covid.”

On entering The Gilpin Casino, I was politely told to climb the steps and stand on the top step and remain still for another picture and temperature reading, with a similar device as the Red Dolly, but this one kind of looked like a panda. I was never asked to remove my mask for identification or photo-taking purposes in any casino.

I asked the employee if people had been cooperating with the mask rule. She said the same thing I was told at the Monarch, some were complying, others weren’t. She said a customer had been ejected a few minutes earlier for refusing to wear a mask, which, admittedly, I was sorry I missed.

Ameristar‘s procedure was a little more confusing. There were lanes directing people to walk in one direction only, but I somehow ended up walking up an exit lane after getting off the elevator, which they were restricting to one rider at a time. Before you were allowed onto the casino floor you had to put your face up to a device that resembled a thick iPad. I stood in a digital human silhouette and it took my picture and temperature, which was reading at 100-degrees Fahrenheit (!). Fortunately the employee took my temperature with a back-up no-touch thermometer and I passed.

Inside The Casinos

Inside the casinos it was fairly sparse. Granted, it was a Friday morning, but two days earlier when casinos first opened at 8:00 a.m. there were lines out the door. Many casino floors’ table games sections were reconfigured, in some cases the table games removed completely. The usually raucous Ameristar craps pit in particular was eerily calm and quiet without the typical crowds.

Slot machines were spaced out so that every other one was out of service, and there were signs placed throughout all the casinos I visited with reminders on how to keep safe. Hand sanitizer dispensers and wipes for machines were plentiful, and self-serve beverage kiosks were nonoperational. It seemed the casinos were doing drink service for players sitting at machines, however, but only in disposable containers.

The Red Dolly is cozy in normal times, so to help maintain social distance, the casino not only turned off every other machine, but they installed plexiglass shields between each one. It was definitely a squeeze down those aisles, but someone more svelte might have navigated them more easily. Machines at the monarch had little cards in the loyalty program slots reassuring guests the machine had been disinfected since its last use. Even the urinals were kept socially distant, with black tape marking off every other one as closed.

Inside it was mostly people by themselves or in pairs. The slight disinfectant smell everywhere that was permeable even though my own mask was oddly comforting. In the Gilpin an occasional announcement was played over the speaker system with reminders to stay six feet apart and observe other best health practices.

It was good to be back, even though it felt so different. It was sort of surreal looking up from a slot machine and seeing everyone wearing masks, and make no mistake, 100% of the people I saw had masks on. The masks and health screenings will take some getting used to, but Colorado has so far been successful in keeping the number of Covid-19 cases under control, with the number of confirmed cases down for 12 of the last 14 days. If those numbers keep improving, we’ll all be able to get back to normal more quickly.

From the looks of things Black Hawk and Central City are taking the health and safety of its patrons seriously and eager to get back in the swing of things.

About the Author

Chris Nesi

Chris Nesi is Managing Editor of Colorado Sharp. He’s been an editor and writer for more than a decade, with experience spanning newspapers, magazines, digital news, and commercial writing. His work can be found in publications including TechCrunch, Mental Floss and Huffington Post. Chris lives just outside of Denver and enjoys regular trips to Black Hawk. He bets the hard ways and always splits 8s.