Southern Teller and Cripple Creek Receiving an Early Glimpse of Renewed Life

A slot-only town. Local officials and business leaders are ecstatic that gaming will soon return to Cripple Creek. But the gambling action will feature a vastly different look, with the coronavirus restrictions, calling for no table or card game activity.

County leaders Get Final Okay to Reopen Local Casinos

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Southern Teller, including the gaming community of Cripple Creek, is slowly awakening from a several- month hibernation, resulting from the COVID-19 epidemic.

But the big lingering question: When will the casinos reopen?

Early next week, according to local and state officials, after COVID-19 cautionary staff training is completed and other details are worked out. This follows the approval of the latest variance request submitted by county officials, with added conditions and restrictions.

In fact, to sweeten the deal even further, the Teller County commissioners submitted another amended proposal last week to the state’s director of Public Health and Environment, Jill Hansaker Ryan.

In the latest bid, the county, at the recommendation of local gaming leaders, agreed to take all table and card games, including craps, roulette, poker and now blackjack, off the table entirely.  So. When the casinos reopen on June 15, no card or table game activity will occur in , at least temporally.

In their latest letter, the commissioners continued to emphasize the fact that the casinos in Cripple Creek are more low-key, and that the reopening would  abide by strict social distancing measures and COVID-19 precautionary steps. The gaming activity would resemble anything but a business as usual environment, with a laundry list of requirements for operators.

“The casino protocols and safety guidelines prepared by local industry experts are effective safety measures for our small, low-key casinos. Additionally, our local COVID-19 case count still holds and our suppressive efforts remain effective,” stated the commissioners in an amended request, sent to the CDPHE director on June 3. This represented further gaming restrictions from the county’s supplemental variance, submitted on May 29.

The added amendment apparently became the winning betting combination for the town’s effort to reopen local gaming establishments, which have been shut down since March 17. At least, that’s the belief of local officials and gaming operators.

During last week’s regular council meeting, Cripple Creek Interim City Administrator Paul Harris appeared cautiously optimistic about the chances of casinos reopening soon. According to preliminary reports, the issue of card game activity was a possible deal breaker, based on the state’s initial review of their variance.

By taking all card and table game activity off the table entirely, local leaders and gaming insiders believed the town would have a better chance of revving up their slot machines and returning to action soon.

And under one scenario, Cripple Creek could become the first gaming community in Colorado to reopen. Another variance request has been submitted by Gilpin County regarding the reopening of casinos in Black Hawk and Central City.  But according to officials, this request is seeking to allow table game action, especially in the casinos in Black Hawk that sport more Las Vegas-style gaming establishments.

Harris said the prospects of the casinos’ reopening depends a lot on timing, and when Teller’s renewed bid is reviewed by the state. Currently, the CDPHE is reviewing a bombardment of variance bids from many counties across the state.  But  many of these deal with just requests for certain events or activities.

On Monday, the CDPHE director granted the county the okay for their latest variance bid to reopen Cripple Creek casinos, with some added restrictions and conditions. According to the Colorado Division of Gaming and city officials, Cripple Creek casinos are slated to reopen on June 15 at 10 a.m.

Besides the reopening of casinos, Harris said the city is seeking the okay to open the Heritage Center and several local museums.  It also is supportive of a bid to reopen the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad.  Harris stated last week that Cripple Creek is slowly reopening.

Plus, the town’s financial picture, once clouded with red ink, is improving. The Cares  Act (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Emergency Security Act), the largest legislative initiative to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic,  is expected to provide towns and communities in Teller with $2.2 million. “That’s a real positive,” said Harris. In fact, last week, the city was granted a nearly $65,000 funding appropriation, with no required match, to operate its trolley system again. “There is a lot of progress on a lot of fronts,” added Harris.

Welcome to the Creek Outdoor Street Fair

And when the town does completely reopen, Cripple Creek isn’t going to be shy about having a more active street and sidewalk environment.

At last week’s meeting, elected leaders signaled the thumbs-up for a new “Streateries at The Creek” plan, calling for a temporary program to allow current restaurants, bars and retail shops to operate in an outdoor setting, adjacent to their current businesses. Under this bid, they could even use public sidewalks and street areas, with permission.

It also could pave the way for a lively street and sidewalk environment, allowing business to have live  music, outdoor games, speaker music, sports broadcasting, movies and pet-friendly areas outdoors. The program, set to expire in mid-October, is aimed at helping established businesses, restaurants and casinos (when they reopen). It wouldn’t be available to new business entities. It may permit street closures at certain times.

Marketing and Special Events Director Jeff Mosher described this a way to give an extra boost to the local business community, which has been decimated by the forced closure of gaming. “It is a different experience,” admitted Mosher. “It will be beneficial to the casinos,” said the marketing chief. “It will be very positive for everyone.”

Mosher sees this as a festive way to provide outdoors what can’t occur indoors, as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. It also would promote a family environment. Also, according to Mosher, it allows the town to take advantage of its established entertainment district.

The council gave the plan a warm welcome and viewed this as a way to provide local businesses with an extra, needed boost.

In other action, the council approved a resolution, permitting a conditional use permit for a large self-storage area at the corner of Fourth and Myers for the Double Eagle casino. This request sparked considerable discussion at a previous meeting. The council supported the request, based on a number of conditions and efforts to screen the facility.