Teller County Strikes Out in Variance Bid For Casino Table Games

State Authorities Deny Plan For Less Gambling and Drinking Restrictions

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

In another blow for the Cripple Creek casino community, the city and county, state health officials denied a bid last week, submitted by the Teller commissioners, for a variance to bring back casino table games and 24/7 alcohol service.

As a result, blackjack and poker buffs may have to partake in these activities in gaming towns near Denver or at their homes.

But in a slight compromise, officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)  left the door slightly open for the county to qualify as a “Protect Our Neighbors “area, giving it the most lenient COVID-19 restrictions available in Colorado.

Still, Cripple Creek is plain out of luck for resuming blackjack, poker, craps and roulette games in the immediate future. These activities are often considered the more colorful aspect of the local gaming scene. And unfortunately, the county must head back to square one in seeking more relief from the current COVID restrictions, even though the county is doing quite well in controlling the pandemic locally.

The decision, made last Thursday during a phone conference/hearing with CDPHE officials, isn’t sitting well with the commissioners.

“We are very disappointed in the decision made by the state,” said Teller County Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder, who has taken a lead role in dealing with the coronavirus-related variances. “We don’t feel it is fair to change the rules like this. We believe we should have been grand-fathered in.’

The commission chairman was referring to a new process, implemented by CDPHE to deal with variance procedures. The county’s latest bid was delayed by state bureaucratic changes, and a meeting was set up last week.  That’s when the state officially ruled against the county’s latest variance, their third bid for relief from the state COVID restrictions.

Dettenrieder contends that this decision will serve as another economic setback for a region already battered by financial woes. “It really places us at a competitive disadvantage (to casinos in Black Hawk and Central City).” Plus, this represents more bad news for the city of Cripple Creek, which is dealing with a record low volume of casino devices/game fees, the main revenue source that funds the city government.

Table games returned on Sept. 12 to the main stage for casinos in Black Hawk and Central City due to Gilpin County’s designation as a “Protect Our Neighbors” rating by state officials. This particular rating, which only a few counties have received, offers the fewest restrictions, such as allowing indoor gatherings of 500 people and permitting businesses to operate at a 50 percent occupancy reduction,

Protect Our Neighbors Rating

In essence, state officials, according to Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker, want the county to work towards gaining this rating. Teller is currently considered “A Safer At Home And In The Vast, Great Outdoors” area.  This is the middle of the road designation among three possible categories.

According to officials, the one positive development from last week’s meeting with the state was that guidelines were provided for how Teller may achieve this less restrictive rating.  Decker said if the county ups its testing, or makes other adjustments, it may qualify.

The county’s main Achilles heel in obtaining this less restrictive designation deals with its current COVID-19 caseload, which has nearly hit the 200 mark. Gilpin  County, for example, has less than 20 positive COVID cases. On the upside, the surge of new cases has slowed down considerably in Teller, since a big spike in July.

Dettenrieder said the county plans to pursue this less restrictive option, but noted that officials must then start the process from square one and obtain letters of support and other documentation. “We have an opportunity,” said the commission chairman. “We are in a good position.”

In fact, if the county can obtain the Protect Our Neighbors rating, this could provide a big bonanza for casinos and other facilities. Besides the return of table games and 24/7 alcohol service, this would open the door for more customers, with the 500-capacity levels for indoor gatherings.

The commission chairman has stressed that time is not on the side of Cripple Creek casinos and southern Teller. “We need our businesses to open up more.  That is the reality of economics,” said Dettenrieder.

Dettenrieder and his peers on the commission have stressed the fact that shutting down the economy has become more of a threat than the current COVID-19 restrictions. They have continued to emphasize the importance of individual and business responsibility in grappling with the epidemic.

Andrew Wommack

Another trump card in the county’s bid deals with a lawsuit filed, in behalf of Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM) by Liberty Counsel, calling the state’s ban against public gatherings by religious organizations as unconstitutional and unfair. In the suit, AWM has  criticized state and local health departments over what they refer to as “arbitrarily imposed numerical limitations.” AWM wants to have a big Pastor’s Conference this week, an event that could attract hundreds of participants, including students at the Charis Bible College (see related story).

Most political and legal insiders believe AWM faces an uphill battle in overturning these state restrictions against big, mega in-person gatherings.