Colorado feels impact
of tribal casinos

Nov 13, 2006 2:35 AM

In the Southwest corner of Colorado are two Indian casinos, the Ute Mountain Casino in Towaoc (near the Four Corners) and Ute Sky Casino in Ignacio, about half an hour from Durango.

While restricted to providing limited stakes gaming (i.e., no wager over $5 per decision), these sovereign facilities are fundamentally different from commercial operators in Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek.

Led by Tribal Chairman Clement J. Frost, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe oversees a significant cultural and financial entity. As demonstrated by the recent 86th Annual Tribal Fair and Pow Wow, the presence of a top notch cultural center (with 20-acre equestrian training center and R.V. park along the Pine River) and a free-standing museum honoring the tribe’s heritage, the casino is only one element of the tribe’s identity and means of livelihood.

Due to the tribe’s enormous natural resources and established fiscal holdings, the casino only contributes approximately 5% of the gross operating funding for the tribe. Still, at 13 years old, the casino is ready for its growth spurt.

According to General Manager Matt Olin, the master plan for an incrementally developed casino complex will increase gaming positions from 550 to 760, hotel rooms from 35 to 150, and alternative entertainment opportunities such as a 24 lane bowling alley and mini-golf course.

Also, a small spa, travel center, moderate sized aqua park, and child care facility are all under consideration. Of course, no modern casino is complete without a variety of dining options or retail outlets. Thus, these facilities are also in the works.

Most importantly and true to the purpose of self determination with Indian Gaming, tribal members are being provided educational opportunities such as a free course offered in conjunction with a local university on how to write a business plan. This road of education is laid so that tribal members will be the informed proprietors of the noted retail and ancillary venues.

Currently, the Sky Ute Casino is a relatively typical Indian Casino with bingo, a snack bar, the Rolling Thunder Cafe, and a restaurant, Pino Nuche. As with most Colorado casinos, limited stakes house banked table games and poker are offered.

Unlike other properties this size, the entertainment options are varied; ranging from boxing events and Los Lonely Boys concerts to appearances by the Chippendales dancers.

Also, unlike the mining town’s casinos, alcohol is strictly prohibited on the reservation and, de facto, in the 24 hour a day casino.

The property presently pulls from the feeder markets of Farmington, New Mexico and Durango, Colorado with a solid and up-to-date slot offering and competitive facilities, but with expansions predicted to be completed in 2008, the area of concentric drawing zone will likely expand.

The Ute Mountain Ute’s Ute Mountain Casino is approximately 90 minutes away from the Sky Ute Property. With Towaoc about an hour away from Durango, one has the pleasure of taking a scenic drive scenically reminiscent of the approach to Lake Tahoe from Reno.

Within the casino complex is an outdoor recreational area, a truck stop/travel center with an A&W Root Beer restaurant that serves up the ever-so-tasty "Frosty," a 70 room/20 suite hotel, and, of course, a casino.

Unique to this property is a gigantic video arcade similar to the one found at the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana and the offering of live keno.

I had the opportunity to spend the night at the Anaszi-accented and comfortable hotel, but missed out on taking a dip in the indoor pool or working out in the on-property gym. Both dinner and breakfast were enjoyed at the limited-menu Kuchu’s restaurant.

As a casino traditionalist, I enjoyed the clanging of real coins falling into hoppers of machines that have not yet been converted to TITO (ticket-in, ticket-out), and could appreciate the intensity of poker going down in the semi-private poker area.

From an unscientific survey of the population, it seemed that approximately three-fourths of the customer base were Indians. Thus the property seemed to double as both a place for Indians from nearby towns to come and play and as a de facto community center (e.g., the restaurant was patronized by multiple multi-generational, extended families dining together).

As I have the opportunity to spend more time at these unique Indian locales in Colorado, I look forward to sharing what I learn in this column.

(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])