Colorado Casinos Reopening In Gilpin County Following State Approval, Others Still Waiting

Monarch Casino in Black Hawk will reopen June 17, and casinos in Gilpin County including Ameristar, Bull Durham, and others in Black Hawk and neighboring Central City are also making reopening plans after state officials signed off.

The announcement came down Saturday, as Colorado’s Public Health Department approved Gilpin’s request for a variance to start reopening casinos, which have been out of commission since mid-March due to coronavirus. 

Despite the fact Colorado’s ‘Safer at Home’ order remains in place, Gov. Jared Polis said in late May counties could request a variance from the order for their casinos.  Each county presents a COVID-19 prevention plan and has to prove the number of cases in their area is declining before health officials decide if they can reopen. And while casino doors can now reopen in Gilpin, customers should expect to see some changes when they walk inside.

Monarch Plans For Reopening 

A spokesman for Monarch Black Hawk confirmed the casino will open next week with limited functions. That means only slot machines for the first three weeks. Beginning the week of July 6, if there hasn’t been a spike in COVID-19 cases, table games can start up.

“We have missed serving our guests and working with our team members over the past couple of months and we are really looking forward to opening our doors in the safest possible manner,” said Monarch Casino Resort COO David Farahi in a press release.

One of the key reasons health officials approved the change was due to a lack of COVID-19 cases in the county. In fact, Gilpin reported only five cases total since the outbreak started in March. With so few cases, the county qualified as a “low” infection threat. That means casinos will have a maximum number of 175 people allowed in the building at any time, including staff. 

In addition, customers and employees will be screened for symptoms when they walk in each day. Also lines will be set up at each slot machine, marking off where people have to stand in order to be six feet apart. The casinos also must have signs telling anyone with COVID-19 symptoms not to enter.  This matches up with what gamers told Colorado Sharp they want in a recent poll.

Teller Hopes to Follow Soon

As Gilpin’s casinos prepare to reopen, Teller County hopes their Cripple Creek casinos will soon follow. The state approved Teller’s original request in May, with some conditions. At the time, Colorado was still in Reopening Phase II, so bars and casinos couldn’t open. While the county got permission to open other businesses, casino owners had to wait. 

“In Teller County’s case, we approved most components of their variance and told them that bars and casinos could not open yet,” said Ian Kahn, spokesman for the Colorado Public Health Department. “Subsequently, the governor announced that counties could begin working with [the health department] on plans to reopen casinos, so submitting a revised variance request with a plan for reopening casinos would be the next step. Then [the department] would evaluate that plan, along with case trends and other factors.” 

That step is already in progress, said Teller County Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder. He provided Colorado Sharp with a copy of the county’s revised submission. In the document, Teller officials say one portion of the casino will be temporarily shut down. 

“Table games (such as blackjack, craps, roulette and poker), shall not re-open until approved by the state,” the document says. 

It also states that occupancy will be limited to 40 percent in all casinos, with no live music or other events until approved by Colorado officials. Customers and employees will be required to wear masks and all casino staff will be screened. 

Other Counties Face Reopening Challenges  

Teller should get an answer within the next week, state officials say. County commissioners submitted a revised request on May 29 and then followed that up with a second revision on June 3. As approval takes between 7 to 10 days, they should hear back by Friday, June 12 at the latest.

Teller’s health situation also makes approval easier, as the county only recorded one additional case since the first request in mid-May. Overall, Teller reported only 34 cases since March. That puts the county in the bottom 50 across the state.  

Meanwhile, in La Plata and Montezuma counties, the possibility of reopening soon still exists, but it’s a bit more complicated. COVID-19 outbreaks in both areas raise questions, with La Plata at 82 cases and Montezuma at 57. La Plata currently stands as 19th highest in the state for the number of covid-19 cases. Before variances can be approved for either one, the counties have to demonstrate either a reduced case count or a downward trajectory. In La Plata’s case, for example, if the number dropped from 82 to 65 active cases over two weeks, that shows progress. If the number climbs to 90 or above, that would be a red flag.

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.