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Of all the Colorado businesses reopening during recent weeks amid the COVID-19 crisis, casinos face some of the biggest challenges. After all, a significant portion of their clientele is in the sixty-and-up demographic that's most at risk of fatal consequences from the novel coronavirus, and casino operators need to persuade such folks that they won't be gambling with their lives while gambling away their children's inheritance.

To see how this pitch is working, we headed to Black Hawk, one of Colorado's three mountain towns that allow gambling, on Saturday, June 27, and visited two of the community's largest gaming establishments, Ameristar Casino, Resort and Spa and The Lodge Casino. What we found there were decent, if not overwhelming, crowds of customers more diverse in terms of age, if not ethnicity, than stereotypes might suggest, and the vast majority gave at least a nod toward social distancing and wore facial coverings.

Whether they wore them correctly is another matter.

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EXPAND The line for temperature checks and facial-recognition scans at the Ameristar. Photo by Michael Roberts

The Central City Parkway was far from jammed during our drive up from Denver. Still, the lower levels of the Ameristar parking garage were mostly filled upon our arrival, and the line to enter the casino, complete with floor stickers placed six feet apart, grew to around thirty people while we waited.

At a kiosk placed in front of escalators leading to the main floor, Ameristar employees stood ready to insert our driver's licenses into the slot of a small gadget connected to a contraption that combined temperature-taking with facial recognition.

EXPAND Looking down on the gaming zone at Ameristar's Black Hawk casino. Photo by Michael Roberts

After passing both tests, we rode an escalator down to the primary gambling zone. At first glance, few risk-takers were in sight, in part because gaming tables aren't yet operating, owing to the health issues related to multiple people handling cards, chips and the like.

EXPAND Ameristar's gaming tables are off-limits for right now. Photo by Michael Roberts

But deeper into the casino, where most of the slot machines are grouped, the scene changed.

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By our estimate, around 30 percent of the slots were being used at any given time, and few casino-goers from different parties sat directly next to each other. A gap of a machine or more was common, and as soon as someone moved on, an Ameristar employee would swoop in and disinfect the buttons, levers and seats, so they'd be ready for the next person.

Likewise, sanitation stations with hand sanitizer were strategically placed in high-traffic areas.

EXPAND Various slot-machine pods at Ameristar. Photo by Michael Roberts

Gamblers at least made a nod to following safety precautions; we saw only a few who eschewed a mask. But 10 to 20 percent of the customers  at Ameristar wore their facial coverings underneath their nose, making their use utterly pointless.

Outside the Lodge Casino. Google Maps

A block away, the Lodge Casino used a different admission process. A masked employee handed us stickers reading "TEMP CHECK" that we were told would be automatically scanned on our way to the gaming area to determine if we were running a fever. If we failed, we would be stopped by another staffer, but no one blocked our way, rendering the other word on the sticker — "APPROVED" — entirely accurate.

The Lodge was a bit busier than Ameristar. Its gaming tables had been nixed, too, but approximately 40 to 50 percent of the slot machines were in use. Spacing between individuals or groups was also in evidence, and sanitation options were readily available.

Again, only a few customers had ditched their masks entirely, but 20 percent or so had them placed in such a nose-exposing way that they would have been equally effective in their pockets.

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Support Our Journalism EXPAND Yosemite Sam orders Lodge Casino patrons to keep their distance. Photo by Michael Roberts

As people passed each other in the walkways between gambling pods, most of them allowed for six feet or more of space between them and others, just as signage featuring Yosemite Sam directed — and the volume of customers made that possible.

Over time, higher attendance at Black Hawk casinos could make social distancing more difficult — and because many gamblers spend entire days in such places, the risk of breathing the same recirculated air for hour upon hour could certainly come into play.

Which makes sense — since casinos are all about chance.

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Op-ed | An early welcome to Phase 3 of New York Citys reopening

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Good morning New York City, and allow the New York City Transit workforce to be the first to welcome you to Phase 3 of the city’s reopening, and hopefully back to the transit system as well. 

More than two million customers are once again using the subways and buses, a milestone that seemed out of reach only a few short months ago. Our projections estimate that we will see continued increases in ridership on both subways and buses during this phase. 

We are so glad to have you back — and eager to update you on all we have been doing over the last few months to ensure that we were ready to get you back to work, and wherever else you need to go, safely and efficiently. 

Safety has been our single highest priority throughout the pandemic, and our efforts to protect the health of our incredible workforce and customers are ever-evolving. 

The most recent step is our announcement that over the coming weeks, we will be installing protective barriers around the operator compartment on buses. Last week we unveiled two innovative prototypes of these barriers: full-length polycarbonate sliders and vinyl curtains. Both can manually slide to open when passengers board.

All 4,800 local buses will be outfitted with these partitions by the fall, with curtain installation already underway on 1,000 express buses. With these new protections in place, we plan to resume front-door boarding in August. 

On the subway, customers may notice new personal protective equipment vending machines at 10 stations across the system. They offer reusable face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes. But single-use surgical masks are also available — for free — at all station booths thanks to a generous donation of two million masks by the State and City. 

Our goal is to make obtaining a mask as easy as possible for those who don’t have a mask or face covering, or for those who enter the system and realize they’ve forgotten theirs at home. We can’t emphasize enough that wearing one is the right thing to do — and it’s absolutely required for using mass transit. I’m proud that our ongoing ridership surveys are showing widespread mask compliance, but I know we can do even better. 

There’s no question, riding with us now is a different experience than it was pre-pandemic. From our 24/7 cleaning regimen and gleaming trains to our complimentary hand sanitizer in every station — and from our new signs throughout the system to our social distancing decals — if you are just now coming back to transit, things are going to feel different. 

But there’s no reason to fear your old commute. We’re still here to serve as New York’s circulatory system. We are ready for you, and we are so glad to have you back. 

Sarah Feinberg is acting New York City Transit president.

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