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Ute Mountain casino and hotel reopen

Facility operates at 30% capacity; nonsmoking a big change

The Ute Mountain Casino and Hotel in Towaoc have reopened after a five-month closure because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Operations resumed Aug. 20 at 30% capacity with COVID-19 safety protocols and precautions.

And the facility has gone non-smoking.

Kuchu’s Restaurant has been revamped, gaming venues were improved, and a sports betting facility will open soon.

“As we look forward to a warm welcome, the safety of the tribal members, guests and our team members remain our top priority,” said General Manager Rick Scheer. “We’ve been pretty busy.”

A robust health and sanitation plan is in place, he said, and the venue has been upgraded.

During the closure, about 130 of the 400 employees were retained to sanitize the casino building and equipment, Scheer said. With the reopening, staff is back up to 400. During the shutdown, laid off employees were given paid furlough.

All staff received training on COVID-19 safety and sanitation protocols, Scheer said, with more comprehensive training for team members that are in frequent contact with guests.

Guests and staff must wear appropriate double-layer masks, and advised to practice 6-feet physical distance. Scarves and bandanas are not allowed to be used as masks. The casino will provide masks to guests if needed.

Casino and hotel entry will be limited to the main north and south entrances into the hotel lobby. At the entrances, there will be non-invasive temperature checks utilizing thermal cameras for guests and staff.

Anyone with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will be refused entry and will be directed to appropriate medical care.

Hand sanitizers have been placed throughout the casino and hotel. Sanitation wipe stations have been placed at guest and team member entrances and contact areas. Plexiglass barriers have been installed to separate guests and staff. Booth backs have been raised in the restaurant.

Smoking and tobacco – cigarettes, cigars, vapes, pipes and chewing tobacco – are not permitted in the casino, hotel and restaurant areas.

Becoming a nonsmoking facility is a major change, and customer feedback has been positive, Scheer said.

The decision was made by the Ute Mountain Tribal Council in cooperation with casino management. In an atmosphere of a pandemic health crisis and masks, prohibiting smoking is seen as practical, Scheer said, and it’s a trend in the industry.

Officials did not want customers pulling down masks to smoke, and there is a concern that COVID-19 particles could be spread by smoke or a smoker’s cough.

“Having a smoky casino has been our No. 1 complaint, so this is a positive change, and we are going to stick with it,” Sheer said. “The place is throughly cleaned and smells great. We’re getting a lot of praise for it. Even the smokers tell us they don’t mind stepping outside.”

The clean air is good for business too, he said, attracting new customers.

The sovereign nation status of Colorado’s Ute Mountain and Southern Ute Reservations makes the casino exempt from the Colorado Indoor Smoking Act, which bans indoor smoking.

In other changes at the casino, the Players Club was relocated and upgraded, and several other improvement projects were completed.

Led by Executive Chef Charles Gewlas, Kuchu’s Restaurant has been reimagined and reconfigured to follow all social distancing guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Capacity is limited to 90 guests, down from 150, and guests are seated spread out.

The restaurant has a new menu featuring American classics, Southwest favorites and traditional barbecue.

Additionally, the highly anticipated Ute Mountain Sportsbook will start up at the casino in fall. Sports betting was legalized in Colorado when voters approved Proposition DD in November 2019.

Scheer said a tentative opening date for the sports betting venue is late September. Sports will be aired on a 98-inch television and on 13 55-inch screens. A ticker along the walls will show betting updates.

jmimiaga@the-journal

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