Colo. gaming still growing

May 15, 2006 1:06 AM

Colorado ranked among the few states posting gains last year in both casino employment and gambling revenues, the American Gaming Association reported in its 2006 State of the States report.

The number of casino jobs in the state rose 4.2 percent to 8,029, due mainly to expansions at Black Hawk’s two biggest gaming establishments. The total amount of money consumers spent at Colorado casinos jumped 4 percent to $755.5 million.

"We continue to see growth," said Lois Rice, executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association. "It’s not stupendous, but it’s typical of the last four or five years."

Of the 11 states with commercial casinos, only three others — Nevada, Illinois and South Dakota — posted job increases. By contrast, consumer spending on gaming increased in every state except Mississippi, where coastal casinos closed after Hurricane Katrina.

In Colorado, industry officials say expansions at the Isle of Capri and Colorado Central Station casino complex, as well as growth at Ameristar Black Hawk, likely accounted for most of the 326 new jobs in the gaming industry.

While Cripple Creek and Central City also house a number of the state’s casinos, Black Hawk still accounts for most of the revenues.

A new hotel at Central Station boosted the hotel rooms in Black Hawk by about 40 percent last year, while the casino also added a restaurant and skywalks.

"There’s no question . . . all that created jobs," said John Bohannon, vice president of marketing for Isle of Capri and Colorado Central Station. "When you add hotel rooms to a gaming market, you seem to really get a large bump in growth because you allow people to stay in a market longer."

At Ameristar Black Hawk, jobs have increased to 600 from 500 since the Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos Inc. purchased the casino in December 2004, said company spokeswoman Kathy Calla-han.

In an industry that topped $30 billion in 2005, Colorado generates relatively small casino revenues because of rules permitting only limited-stakes gambling. It ranks second to last in revenues, ahead of only South Dakota, another limited-stakes venue.

Among findings in the American Gaming Association report:

”¡ A survey showed almost 80 percent of respondents find gambling acceptable for themselves or others, while almost 72 percent see casinos as a "valuable part of a community’s entertainment and tourism options."