Creek gaming hits winning stride

imagesCreek gaming hits winning stride

Rick Langenberg

Although it may be too early for a summer celebration, the Cripple Creek gambling community is gearing up for an economic comeback with a winning hand.

And within a few weeks, the town could boost its prospects further with the issuing of a handful of licenses for local operators that will provide 24/7 cocktail service in the Creek—the first locale where this will occur in Colorado. With the establishment of common consumption areas and local promotional associations, the main casinos in town hope to attract more customers and local workers who may want to enjoy a few alcoholic beverages of choice and stay in town, instead of heading down the highway at 2 a.m. in the morning. Even though gaming is permitted around-the-clock, the serving of alcoholic beverages is banned from 2 to 7 a.m., according to previous state rules. Under new legislative changes, the city could override this ban and establish its own local liquor authority.

The latest developments have left some business operators and city officials with bullish hopes for 2015. “We are optimistic. We are hoping for a good summer,” said City Finance Director Paul Harris, who recently released a fairly upbeat gaming report, which may be discussed at this week’s council meeting.

According to the latest findings by the Colorado Division of Gaming, Cripple Creek casinos hit the jackpot and generated a hike of $15.9 million in gambling wagers in May, marking an 11 percent increase in gaming activity from the previous month. Moreover, local casinos are up $3.9 million in their coin-in/table drop numbers, which track overall betting volume, for the year.

More importantly, this represents the biggest improvement in gaming action since the early summer of 2012. That’s the last time the local gaming community saw impressive gains. But unfortunately, the Waldo Canyon fire and the subsequent floods dimmed these prospects considerably.

And when it comes to overall casino winnings, local establishments generated an 11.2 percent monthly hike from April and are now up close to 2 percent for the year. These numbers are impressive, considering that the local casino community got clobbered during the winter, with monthly gaming wagers that plunged by nearly 5 percent.

“Cripple Creek had a great May,” said Harris, in his report.

Overall, casino activity was hot throughout the entire state. Black Hawk, the perennial champion of limited stakes gaming, saw its adjusted gross proceeds increase by 15.2 percent last month, while Central City, with its handful of casinos, experienced a 23 percent hike.

On the downside, Cripple Creek’s gains for the month weren’t as impressive on a percentage basis as those of its two main competitors, Black Hawk and Central City.

Still, local gaming operators are cautiously optimistic, as the city enters the heart of its festival season with Donkey Derby Days and the July 4th celebration. Plus, the return of more sunny weather, along with a more stable highway situation with limited closures, has many operators predicting a good season.

This summer could also feature a bold experiment for the Cripple Creek casino community regarding round-the-clock bar service.

By the middle of July, downtown Cripple Creek is expected to launch the official debut of its common consumption areas for the 24/7 serving of alcohol. According to City Administrator Ray DuBois, licenses have been proposed by the Triple Crown/Century (who are doing a combined license), Bronco Billy’s, Wildwood and Double Eagle. Some of these include the combination of casino properties with other entities, such as restaurants or entertainment hubs. The Cripple Creek Casino Association plans to present formal applications for participating businesses within the common consumption district at the council’s July 15 meeting.

Businesses that form promotional associations must comply with certain regulations.

“We see this as a pretty good thing for the town,” said DuBois.

It’s still unsure how many new customers the 24/7 offering will attract, or if it will just give the town an extra publicity edge over its competitors. In any case, Cripple Creek will become the first town in the state to offer round-the-clock bar service, which can only occur within the boundaries of businesses that apply for the permits. No drinks will be permitted on the public streets or sidewalks.

But if the common consumption district proves to be successful, the town may consider expanding this idea further and setting up a non-motorized block or two of 24-7 bar activity for certain special events, where alcoholic beverages can be consumed outdoors, similar to what occurs in Las Vegas and New Orleans.

Besides having more gaming and a festive atmosphere, Cripple Creek hopes to round out its offerings with possibly more events.

According to new marketing director, Steve Kitzman, his department is finalizing the release of two completed surveys, compiled by casino operators and non-gaming business owners.

Additional surveys will tabulate the views of tourists and residents.

These surveys, according to Kitzman, are designed to evaluate the detailed views of visitors, residents business folks and others regarding what they like and dislike about the current marketing and special events activities in the Creek. “People have some pretty strong opinions,” admitted Kitzman. Ultimately, this could lead to more events in town.

An initial report will soon be released to the city council.