Sky Ute Casino Reopening on Hold as Tribal Council ‘Carefully Considers’ COVID-19 Data

For the most part, casinos reopened across Colorado last month without issue. By all accounts, gamers followed the rules, wore masks and stayed six feet away from other groups. But there’s one part of the state where casino doors remain closed as we head into the first full week of July, with no plans to open anytime soon. Officials from the Southern Ute tribe say they’re concerned about COVID-19 cases, specifically around Ignacio. While they’ll continue monitoring the situation, the tribe isn’t willing right now to apply for a waiver from the health department for the Sky Ute casino. Instead of focusing on physical gaming, the group turned to a different option in June, becoming the first tribal casino to launch a sports betting app

Now there are some limitations involved. First, this isn’t something you can just download and play wherever you live. Only people who are physically in the state of Colorado can place a bet. The app links up with your phone’s GPS system, using that to verify your location. If a player is confirmed to be in the state, the app opens up. If not, it’ll let you know the issue. Gamers simply create a betting fund in the app. When your bets pay off, that’s where your winnings will be credited. The tribe signed a contract with US Bookmaking to manage the app. Once the pandemic shutdown is over, the Las Vegas-based company will also manage a physical sportsbook at the Sky Ute casino. 

Why Keep The Sky Ute Casino Closed? 

The main issue for the tribe involves COVID-19 numbers. As we’ve mentioned previously, Colorado ranks counties on a scale from low to high risk when it comes to the virus. If a county reports 25 or fewer new cases over the last two weeks, it’s in the low category. If you have 26 to 50 new cases, your county qualifies as medium. Those with 51 or more are considered high risk. La Plata County, which surrounds the Sky Ute Casino, recorded 123 positive cases and one confirmed death as of July 2. Now to be specific, the county had less than 20 new cases over the last two weeks, so it would be considered low risk.

That means if the casino opened, it could be at up to 50 percent of capacity. The tribe, however, is leery of making that decision right now. They see only 0.5 percent of COVID-19 cases hitting reservations and don’t want that number to go up. 

“The Tribal Council is carefully considering all of the data from throughout the region to ensure the safety of the tribal membership, tribal employees, community members and guests,” said Amanda Hopkins, director of marketing for Sky Ute Casino. “Sky Ute Casino Resort is still temporarily closed with no reopen date.” 

The tribe also temporarily put a stop to remodeling work that had been scheduled before the virus hit. That means even after deciding to reopen, they’ll need time to finish the project, focusing on their physical sportsbook. 

When Will The Doors Reopen?

If the tribe won’t open the doors even in a low risk situation, what will it take to change that? Council members want to see data proving that reopening the casino won’t put their community at risk of infection. While the average number of new cases is down statewide to 199, that’s a recent development. On June 25, for example, the daily average was at 325 and on July 2, it stood at 323. Before signing off on reopening the casino, the council members want to see weeks of data trending down. They’re also following the model set up by other Colorado gaming communities in terms of safety precautions. 

“Casino management has reviewed all recommendations from authoritative sources, as well as other casino reopening plans,” Hopkins said. “[They are] implementing all best practices demonstrated in those plans prior to the reopen decision.” 

So far, there is no timetable for when the work will be finished or when doors might reopen. Also right now, the tribe isn’t saying what specific practices  it’ll put in place for safety precautions. In fact, it’s possible the casino might remain closed as long as Colorado is in the “Safer at Home” reopening phase, focusing instead on the tribe’s sports betting app. 

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.