Sean Demeule leans over the railing and surveys a silent sea of slot machines in the state’s largest casino.
The general manager of the 523-room, 1,250-slot Ameristar Casino Resort shakes his head and chuckles quietly. It’s the only sound in the cavernous gambling hall.
“It would never be like this. Ever,” he says. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
The shuttering of casinos on March 16 triggered the steepest decline in Colorado casino revenue and gambling taxes since voters first approved limited-stakes gambling in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City in 1990. In the past 30 years, the state’s now three dozen casinos endured growing pains, corporate ownership and recessions with aplomb. But COVID-19 will leave a scar on Colorado’s resilient gambling hamlets, where casinos have spent the past decade weaning themselves from overwhelming dependence on gambling with festivals, concerts, hotels, outdoor recreation and amenities beyond betting.
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As casino operators large and small ponder the next card to fall, they wonder if they can lure gamblers who are reticent about a trip to Las Vegas. They pray the pandemic subsides in the Front Range, which would enable them to partially open by midsummer. They worry that a prolonged closure of the casinos would undo the progress made on building a destination. And a state that has grown dependent on a steady flow of gambling taxes is just as eager to turn the gaming spigot back on.
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