DENVER — Casinos sat dormant for nearly three months but in less than a week, the flashing lights and sounds of slot machines will come alive.
The state has approved the reopening of casinos in Gilpin and Teller counties, with a list of new guidelines.
Since casinos closed their doors, the vibrancy and tourism in Black Hawk and Central City grew eerie and the towns look desolate. COVID-19 marked a sobering time for the billion-dollar casino industry in Colorado, normally open year-around.
Monarch Casino General Manager Craig Pleva started his career in the casino industry 23 years ago.
"We have never experienced anything like this, whether it was 9-1-1, the financial crisis; whatever happened, I mean, we were always open," Pleva said.
He says they are the primary revenue generator for mountain communities.
Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek were forced to close every casino in mid-March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Black Hawk is home to 15 casinos, Central City to six, and Crippled Creek to 12. The industry employs nearly 10,000 workers.
Last year, during April and May, 33 casinos raked in more than $140 million in gambling profits and paid out nearly $26 million in gaming taxes to the state during those months. This year, Pleva says, "our revenue is zero" for part of March, April, May and part of June.
The Colorado Department of Revenue predicts a 40% reduction in tax revenue this year, which helps fund many state programs.
Monarch continued with its $400 million expansion throughout the pandemic and plans to hire an additional 1,000 staff members, but for small family-run businesses in the gambling industry, it's a crapshoot.
CinDee Spellman and her siblings run Dostal Alley Casino & Brew Pub. Her father opened the business nearly 29 years ago.
"We are in the casino business, so when the casino is closed, it matters, it hurts," Spellman said. "The hardest thing was having to furlough employees."
She says they are working hard to keep the business afloat by selling pizza and beer to-go.
Casinos in Gilpin County will reopen on June 17.
The biggest changes:
-- Health screenings for visitors and employees will be required upon arrival.
-- Casinos will only operate at a 50% capacity or a maximum of 175 people in a confined indoor space, whichever is fewer.
-- Masks will be required by employees and visitors with some exceptions.
-- Only machines will reopen, table games will remain closed.
-- A 6-foot-distance between slot machines will be required to maintain proper social distancing.
County Public Health Coordinator Bonnie Albrecht says she's met and spoken with casino leaders to make sure they are all on the same page. She says casinos are responsible for the new requirements.
"I will be doing an on-site inspection of each one before they open," Albrecht said.
Spellman doubled down as she gears up for the opening day. To help meet the new requirements, she says they removed 23 slot machines and will open with 40 machines.
"It's going to hurt because the opportunity for more people is gone," Spellman said.
Every casino is getting their plan in place. Some are considering pulling chairs from machines to abide by the six-foot distance rule.
In Teller County, casinos will reopen on June 15 under similar guidelines.
Matt Andrighetti, the general manager at Wildwood Casino, says they're checking off their list and putting signs to help space out visitors. He adds that the casino also invested in UV technology to clean floors elevators and high touch areas.
"Handheld units that will be used to disinfect surfaces like slot machines and tables games when they come back," Andrighetti said.
Spellman says there is no way to train staff for what lies ahead; they'll do their best to make sure everything is clean to help make people feel safe.
"When the chips are down, we pull together and get it done," Spellman said.
She says she's ready for the life and laughter to return to Dostal.
Pleva predicts based on attendance in Las Vegas and California that they will get a surge of visitors back in the casino.