How Colorado Casinos’ Reopening Plans Could Resemble Las Vegas’ Playbook

They all want to know when it’ll happen. Casino owners, gamblers and business owners in Colorado want to know when casinos will reopen in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City. Last year, gamblers spent $213 million in Colorado’s 33 casinos during the month of May. Barring a last-minute change, this year’s amount will be zero. Unfortunately, state officials don’t have a set date in mind or what the reopen order will involve. Companies say they expect to be open by mid-June, but government officials won’t commit to that. What they can say, however, is that things won’t look the same. 

We get a good idea of what Colorado’s eventual order will be by looking next door. On May 7, Nevada’s Gaming Commission adopted a plan spelling out what casinos will have to change in order to reopen. Based on history, Colorado’s casino orders tend to mirror Nevada in many ways. One of the reasons for that is the fact the two states deal with many of the same companies. It’s a lot easier to keep them in town if there’s just one set of rules to deal with.

Currently Colorado is under a ‘safer at home’ order. That means people can go out to certain businesses, go walking or riding bikes in the outdoors. Otherwise, they’re encouraged to stay home. The state’s Department of Public Health provide variances to the order on a case-by-case basis. Counties have a chance to open most local businesses if they can prove virus cases are declining. However, even that doesn’t help casinos as the state made it clear they will not be allowed open until a full plan is in place. 

What Do Officials Say About Colorado Casinos?

We reached out to multiple state officials to get a timeline when a state casino plan will be finished. The Colorado Department of Revenue, which typically handles casino regulation and enforcement, told us that any reopening decisions would have to come from the governor’s office and health department.

“Under Public Health Order 20-28, the casinos in Colorado will remain closed until May 26,” said Suzanne Karrer, communications manager with the Department of Revenue. “The Division will work with the industry once the decision to allow the casinos to reopen is made.”

It’s unclear what will happen on May 26. We reached out to the governor’s office to see if Gov. Polis had decided to extend the order or let it expire. As of May 23, we hadn’t received a response. We also reached out to the Colorado Health Department and they directed us to the governor’s ‘Safer At Home’ order. A May 22 letter from the health department to Teller County officials also said casinos were not eligible for a variance, adding that the state expected to have a reopening plan in place soon. Until that plan is finished, the letter continued, casinos were not able to reopen. 

What do Do Nevada’s Guidelines say? 

To see what Colorado’s rules will likely be, we can look to another state. Across the border in Nevada, health officials set up two sets of rules for casinos to follow. The first focuses on pre-opening requirements. Before those doors open, each operation has to clean and disinfect all of its hard and soft surfaces in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines. This has to be documented and verified with the commission. Also, casino employees have to be trained on both the proper cleaning procedures and how to prevent the spread of infectious disease. That includes learning about social distancing, handwashing and how not to spread germs at work. As with the cleaning, it’s not enough for companies to say they’ve gone through this training. It has to be documented. 

By proper social distancing, the commission referred to the CDC’s guidelines. That document states all people must stay at least six feet or about two arms’ length from everyone else. They also can’t gather in groups. Now yes, this does mean casinos will have to make changes, but we’ll get into what those changes are in the next section. 

Basically, casinos have to turn in all their documentation and tell the commission they agree to comply with all requirements before doors can open. Specifically, the commission’s plan says casinos have to turn in their documents at least one week before they want to reopen. This also can’t be a temporary measure, something done one week and forgotten the next. 

“[This policy] should be regularly and continuously reviewed and executed to ensure the health and safety of licensees’ guests and employees,” the commission’s plan states. 

A Brand New Look For Casinos

Under the health plan, casinos in Nevada will be required to have much smaller crowds in the building. That means letting in no more than 50 percent of the occupancy limit. If the building code says 4500, then companies will only be able to let 2,250 people in. They also have to put a limit on the people playing specific games. That means: 

  • Six players for each craps table 
  • Four players at each poker table 
  • Four players at each roulette table 
  • Three players at each blackjack table 

As for how that’s going to happen? It’s up to each casino, but the commission gives a couple of options. 

“Licensees may remove every other chair or stool in front of a gaming machine or cover a machine’s bill and ticket validator so that patrons do not use that machine,” the plan says. 

It also may smell a bit different in the casino. In fact, don’t be surprised to sit down at a game and get a strong whiff of disinfectant. The commission gives a fairly long list of things that have to be disinfected each time a new customer touches them. That includes blackjack discard holders, cards, card shoes, chairs, chips, dice, Pai Gow tiles, pit podiums, rails, shufflers, toke boxes and wheels. Dealers also will be required to have hand sanitizer to offer any customer that wants it. 

Employees also have to wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds multiple times. First before a shift, then during every break and finally, every time they change their gloves. As for masks, while they’re not required now, the commission’s plan says if that changes at any point in the future, casino employees will have to wear them at all times.

About the Author

Brian Carlton

Brian Carlton is an award-winning journalist who has covered casinos, the gaming and finance industries for more than a decade. His work has been published by the BBC and a variety of newspapers across the U.S.