Cripple Creek Casinos Granted Another $300,000-Plus Fee Waiver

Key gaming leaders discuss future opening of local establishments

~ Rick Langenberg ~

Santa arrived a little early in 2020 for the local gaming industry.

But one gift definitely lacking in St. Nick’s bag of goodies:  a set casino reopening date for a community devastated by the absence of ringing slots since March 16.  For the city of Cripple Creek, the price tag is expected to hit the $2.2 million mark; and for the entire area, it will soar into the millions for the temporary loss of the region’s prime industry.

With absolutely no debate or dissent, the Cripple Creek City Council last week promptly approved a resolution, giving the casinos a $300,000-plus device fee waiver for the month of May.   The decision wasn’t surprising, since the gaming establishments aren’t allowed to open due to Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ safer-at-home order.

But on the upside, elected leaders heard a little positive news about the future opening of local casinos. In fact, for the first time in weeks, an actual reopening date was thrown out.

Regardless of any speculation about an eventual reopening of gaming establishments, no one argued with the fact that the casinos need a financial hand, in the form of a break from all current city fees.

The council, at the recommendation of Interim City Administrator Paul Harris, didn’t hesitate in approving the fee-waiver measure. In fact, they didn’t even bother to read the resolution publicly.

“We are trying to help our primary industry as much as possible,” said Harris. “We hope it helps them.”

According to Harris, who also serves as the city’s finance director, the city has provided the industry with $617,000 in price relief for the last two months. Altogether, with other gaming-related tax revenue the city may lose, the Cripple Creek government is staring at a possible $2.2 million hit.

The council, similar to the action it took in earl April, promptly passed the relief measure. The elected leaders have taken the stand that it’s not fair to levy any fees against the casinos, when they can’t open their doors.

The resolution outlines the details of the orders made by the state  in response to the coronavirus epidemic, along with the emergency declarations. The lifeblood of the Cripple Creek district took an abrupt turn on March 17, when all gaming establishments were such down as part of a protection measure to halt the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The governor initially only announced a month-long closure.  But he then extended it through the entire month of April. as the state went into a stay-at-home order. This was then adjusted to a safer-at-home order. At the same time, the governor indicated that the earliest casinos could open would be in June during a press conference.  However, no set reopening date has been made by state officials.

But with a little luck and fortitude, the casinos in Cripple Creek could open sooner, but the mitigation expenses could be significant. That was the message the council received from Scott Porter, the director of corporate casino operations for Triple Crown Casinos.

Porter relayed the difficult times the industry has encountered for the last two months, with the forced shutdown.

“We really appreciate this,” said Porter, when thanking the city for the price waiver for the industry.

Teller County Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder

On an upbeat note, he told the council that local casinos are hoping to open on June 1 or possibly earlier.  According to Porter, industry officials have been working with Teller County Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder on a proposed county-wide variance from the state restrictions, which would allow the gaming establishments to open up quite soon.

However, Porter cautioned that the costs for reopening could be staggering. “The start-up costs are going to be enormous,” said Porter.

As part of the reopening plan, local gaming establishments can’t use nearly as many gambling devices as before due to the social distancing requirements. Plus, employees and patrons must wear masks. Temperatures of customers would have to be taken, as they enter the gaming establishments, and strict rules will occur pertaining to sanitation. A full realm of detailed anti-coronavirus measures will be enacted with the scheduled reopening of Cripple Creek casinos.

But both Porter and Triple Crown Chief Executive Officer Larry Hill described the move as beneficial for the industry.

Teller County on Friday submitted an 80-page request to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, requesting a full reopening of local businesses, including bars, restaurants, theaters, gyms and casinos. Their proposal represents the most aggressive of the variance bids made by any county in Colorado, in obtaining relief from the state restrictions (see related story).

Bad Times For Casinos Results In Boom Times For Infrastructure

While the current closures of casinos have devastated the Cripple Creek business

Photo by Rick Langenberg

community, the extended shutdown has offered a prime time for the city to proceed with its $1.2 million downtown infrastructure project, resulting in a new upgraded water line and other major improvements.

According to Public Works Director Steve DiCamillo, the project is proceeding quite well.  “We are pretty much on schedule,” said the public works director. “They (the contractor, Native Sun, for the job) had a golden opportunity with businesses not being open.”

Sections of Bennett Avenue have been ripped up for the development of an upgraded water line, better valves and needed enhancements. The only setbacks occurred when the contractors misconstrued certain lines, resulting in a partial flooding of parts of McGills and  Bronco Billy’s casinos.

DiCamillo said this situation has been rectified. He said the only remaining portions of the project include the repaving of Bennett and doing work on the sidewalks. He said the project is slated for a completion date around the week of May 25.

If the casinos had remained open, DiCamillo indicated it could have taken a lot longer for the project to get done and would have involved some hassles for local businesses.  On the downside, he stated that the contractors discovered more faulty water valves than projected.

Last summer, these faulty valves resulted in water geyser outbursts on Bennett Avenue.

Despite the COVID-19 epidemic, the city decided to proceed with the work because a huge bulk of the funds are supported by the state Department of Local Affairs (DOLA).  In addition, the city may receive another grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

If the city had put the project on hold, or opted to delay the work, several council members worried that the grant money could go away due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus situation.