By Rick Langenberg:
The gambling statistics are grim.
The local casino market is in the toilet due to ongoing natural disasters; betting device totals have reached a 20-year-low with recent closures; and the city government is forced to grapple with spending levels of 2001.
Despite these odds, both the city of Cripple Creek and local gambling operators are ready to roll the dice again and hit the airwaves for a $240,000-plus advertising campaign next year, with one overriding message: Cripple Creek is a great place to play and win money.
Last week, a joint meeting between local business operators and the Cripple Creek City Council ended with both sides agreeing to renew their partnership and continue an aggressive marketing effort. At issue is the city’s allotment of $120,000 for an advertising coalition with the casinos and local businesses due to the realities of a “lean and mean” budget. The city is wielding a sharp budget knife in cutting its spending levels from previous years.
But several local casino operators stressed the importance of continuing this campaign and even increasing the television advertising funding levels.
Contrary to previous reports, the city won’t abandon its marketing and special events department, but may do a little restricting with how it handles its personnel. City officials considered the possibility of outsourcing this agency. But this idea got a dim response by elected leaders and casino managers, who cited the importance of having an on-site employee to coordinate marketing activities.
However, the main outcry from the casino operators dealt with a plea to continue the joint advertising coalition, capped by television commercials aired throughout Southern Colorado and the Front Range.
“It is very important,” said Larry Hill, the chief executive officer of the Triple Crown Casinos. “We want to see the town succeed. This has been a very challenging summer for the operators. We have got to continue this.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Marc Murphy, the general manger of Bronco Billy’s, who has held the casino’s management reins since the beginning of gaming. “It would be a mistake to not market (the city and the casinos). You have to be consistent. You have to look at the long-term.”
And with the city finalizing its downtown revitalization project, Murphy believes the time is ideal for continuing an aggressive joint marketing coalition between the city and the gaming operators. He noted that that industry has struggled the last few years with a soft market due to the fires, floods and the downtown construction.
Kevin Werner of the Wildwood casino took this plea one step further and argued that without the joint advertising campaign of 2014, the gaming community would have been hit with further economic pains. “We would be further down,” added Werner.
Moreover, he cited the importance of the joint campaign due the transient nature of Colorado Springs. According to Werner, many people in the Pikes Peak region aren’t aware of Cripple Creek.
The marketing of Cripple Creek
When it came to different promotional ideas and how to handle the city’s marketing department, opinions were mixed.
The city currently doesn’t have a marketing director and Pat and Larry Martin, who have handled much of these details in the past, are retiring next spring.
As a result, the city considered the idea of out-sourcing the agency, a proposal that would save $130,000 in personnel costs.
Werner thought out-souring may make sense, and threw out the idea of having an overall committee. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” said Werner, in describing the current situation with the town’s marketing department.
But most operators and city leaders preferred having an employee on board to provide “boots on the ground” assistance in running events and handling marketing details. Under the new plan unveiled last week, this person wouldn’t necessarily be a marketing expert as many of those details, associated with developing ads and promotional plans, would be handled by the city’s advertising agency.
Local business owner Tim Braun, meanwhile, urged the council to consider developing an overall vision for the town. He said what is lacking in Cripple Creek is a plan for where the town wants to be in five years. He cited a lack of activities for families as a big problem.
However, Councilman Chris Hazlett countered that the town elected leaders face the task of running the government, rather than developing activities for visitors. “We weren’t elected to find things for people to do. We are here to run the city.” Councilman Milford Ashworth agreed, and asked Braun, “Where do you want to be (in five years).”
Several casino operators and elected leaders, meanwhile, cited the importance of promoting the town’s gaming experience. They noted that Cripple Creek offers much better gambling odds than the other gaming towns. “You can win more money,” touted Hazlett, when describing a message that is missing on many billboards.
Another idea mulled involves researching the prospects of having “common consumption” areas, similar to what occurs in Las Vegas and other gambling destinations where players can consume alcoholic beverages outdoors and go from one casino to another. This idea was previously frowned upon by state lawmakers, except for special events.
But according to lobbyists for the city and gaming association, the political tide may be turning with more support at the state level for having a designated common consumption area on a permanent basis in the gaming communities. Details, though, still have to be worked out.