Gaming’s an affordable indulgence

Aug 28, 2006 5:02 AM

Along I-70, on the way to Black Hawk and Central City from downtown Denver, is Lakeside Amusement Park (www.lakesideamusementpark.com). This classic fiefdom of festivity features such ride blasts from the pasts as an original 1941 Cyclone wood roller coaster, The Whip, Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, Rock-O-Plane and the always good for a chipped tooth, old-school steel "mouse trap" coaster, the Wild Chipmunk.

Like Hershey bars, a bottle of Coke and a movie matinee, Lakewood offers a real value proposition — an affordable venue for entertainment and self-indulgence.

Unlike major chain amusement parks that give guests bad-sushi level nausea with parking lot and gate entrance fees that make movie concession stand gouging seem bargain basement, during the week, the gate fee is $2 and one can ride any and all thrill rides for $12.95. Snow cones, popcorn, and fresh roasted corn on the cob can be had for less than a reasonable $2 per tasty treat. In other words, while one’s back may feel broken after riding the Auto Skooters bumper cars, one’s wallet will not be.

In light of gas price bounties, interest rate hikes, and cost of living index bloating, has casino gaming amusement become a more reasonable utilization of individuals resources?

In the 1977 examination of a burgeoning desert town, Inside Las Vegas, Mario Puzo laments with tongue firmly planted in cheek that since he had become successful, he was too rich to gamble (there was too much to lose). In the Last Don, Puzo commented, "The one great mystery that would never be solved was why very rich men still wasted time gambling to win money they did not need."

When one has limited financial resources, one can only do limited damage to his or her lifestyle with a trip or two to the casino.

With some individuals, the loss of $5 in a slot machine is the difference between name brand, store brand, or generic hamburger helper. Consequently, gambling is now viewed by some established and some not-so-privileged members of society as a legitimate activity at which to spend money.

For many, casino entertainment, like the Lakeside Amusement Park, has become an economically reasonable means of entertainment, an affordable luxury, a way to taste the good life without busting the bank.

The headline of the Colorado Rocky Mountain News of August 23, 2006 declared, "Casinos ka-ching — Gambling venues hit jackpot in July with record proceeds."

The article relays that the $74.3 million in gaming proceeds (amount wagered by bettors minus payouts from the casino) garnered in July broke last July’s record by 6%. The author, Gargi Chakrabarty, asserts that the reasons for this increase could be attributed to five primary factors: 1. July is historically the best month for the (Colorado) gaming industry.

2. July 2006 had five weekends.

3. Ameristar Casino bought and upgraded (for $90 million) a property in Black Hawk, adding a gift store and an upscale restaurant.

4. Century Casinos opened a property in Central City.

5. Central City Parkway opened in November 2004.

Addressing these points:

1. July is a peak month for Colorado in terms of weather and associated pursuits of leisure activities — no doubt.

2. Although with a Gregorian calendar, July 2006 may have five weekends, this parameter may not reflect individual casinos calculation of revenue in terms of an accounting based gaming days activity/fiscal calendar. To be accurate with comparisons, true established period over periods need to be analyzed, not calendar months.

3. Ameristar, a seasoned, multi-jurisdictional Las Vegas based casino operator, also brought in to complement the physical plant upgrades a highly competitive re-investment program for all guests and unprecedented amenities for the premium player such as the (high roller) Star Club lounge and professionally trained hosts.

4. Central City Century Casino did not have a full operating month in July of 2006 (i.e., soft opening was July 11th, Grand Opening 10 days later); thus, the additional revenue gleaned during the ramp up period would be minimal.

5. Since the Central City Parkway was opened last July, its contribution cannot be isolated as a significant contributing factor. In fact, the increase year over year in terms of July gaming proceeds before and after the opening of the Expressway is approximately on par.

When there is uncertainty either on a societal or personal scale (e.g., war, natural disaster, will I have my job tomorrow?), the impetus for escapism is forged. Casinos, like amusement parks, are outlets for escape.

My contention is that the Colorado gaming markets of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek markedly increased their gaming proceeds in July of 2006 due to a cultural malaise spliced with a tad of national nihilism.

2006 has been a tough year for many. It is my belief that the increase in gambling in the Colorado casinos is not due as much to changes in the host markets, but to attitudinal changes of the patrons.

When interest rates go up, housing values go down, and job security is not so secure, pumping quarters into a machine or flipping cards on the green baize doesn’t appear to be an unpleasant form of escapism (like a visit to a value-oriented amusement park) nor, to a lesser degree, an inopportune means of investment.

(Founded in 1996, Yarborough Planning, LLC partners with select clientele to better understand and address business process issues. Core competencies include providing reliable and valid research, strategic / analytic marketing, and accountable Customer Relationship Management (CRM) development and implementation. David Paster is accepting new clients and may be reached at (702) 813-5062 or [email protected])