Cripple Creek casinos gamble on parking garage

What are the odds?

Owners of Triple Crown Casinos believe they are good – so good they’re spending several million dollars to build a 476-stall parking garage featuring covered walkways into the three casinos the group owns.

The garage will funnel bettors into J.P. McGill’s, Midnight Rose, and the Brass Ass casinos. It is the first covered garage just for Cripple Creek gaming houses, though some believe the garage will benefit gamblers who like to share their nickels with all of the city’s 18 betting parlors.

Tripe Crown officials won’t reveal the cost of the structure but say dealing with the town’s historic preservation bureaucrats drove the cost up $2 million. However, our research turned up the following estimates:

In the forty-eight contiguous states, construction costs for aboveground parking structures are typically $18 to $22 per square foot (costs in Alaska and Hawaii are greater).

However, assuming an average construction cost of $20 per square foot and an efficient layout of 300 square feet per space, a typical parking structure could cost $6,000 per space. The addition of twenty percent for architecture and engineering services, financing, testing and inspection produce a total capital cost of $7,200 per space without land.

Annual costs include interest, depreciation or principal reduction and operating expenses. These costs vary with the type of financing including cash reserves, conventional mortgages, taxable and tax exempt bonds and developer-owned leasebacks. If the project does not qualify for, or if tax-exempt financing is not available, some will turn to off-balance sheet financing by leasing from a developer-investor.

Ignoring operating expenses and assuming a typical cost of capital, including depreciation of nine percent, the annual maintenance cost in the above example is $648 per space.

Whatever the cost, it is a big investment in a state with a $5 betting limit. Triple Crown’s assortment of 1,000 slot machines features more than a handful allowing gamblers to bet as little as two cents at a time. Additionally, there are nickel slots, dime and quarter slots, and some for $1 and $5.

“We’re selling entertainment,” said Bob Taylor, Triple Crown’s cheerful marketing director, who proudly gives a reporter the nickel tour of the almost-completed parking facility.

The new structure has a rear façade that mirrors the towns historic look, and includes the front of one structure that is over a century old. An elevator will whisk guests to the top floor, where the casino entrance is located.

“It took us two years to get through the city’s historical preservation process,” Taylor said. “There were no parking garages in this town 100 years ago, so everything is historic…. now people can enter any of the three casinos without going outside.”

Entrance to the parking lot is on the west side of the building, and Triple Crown employees driving small utility vehicles will patrol the garage, ready to spirit the willing to the top floor, where they can enter the gaming house. A long corridor connects the entrance to the Midnight Rose lobby, where they can register to stay in one of the 100-plus hotel rooms. The Rose also has the city’s only poker parlor.

If they’re hungry, a few steps below the Roses’ gambling floor is the Down Under Steakhouse, which Triple Crown completely remodeled. It, naturally, features steaks, but the menu also includes fish, chicken and other meats.

A mid-day tour of the three casinos shows there is no shortage of customers, and affirms Triple Crown is reaching its target audience. While there are plenty of younger customers, the majority appear to be retirees, frequently women.

“Our target audience is the population over 45,” Taylor said. “The younger demographic is spending money for refrigerators, they’re putting kids through college, and if they have an extra $30 they’re not going to spend it here.”

Nevertheless, the retirees see Cripple Creek’s casinos as a great entertainment, Taylor said. “We’re going to feed them, give them drinks, and maybe even a free room.”

The free room is part of the company’s “Triple Play Club.” Membership is free, and guests receive a credit card-style membership tag. Members swipe the card through an electronic reader built into each slot machine, and it tracks every play they make. Regular players sometimes appear tethered to the machine with a coiled plastic umbilical cord attached to their membership cards.

Earn enough points on your card and you get rebates: extra credits that are spendable on additional gambling, or perhaps a free room.

The gambling business in Colorado generates money for parks and other public uses, and contributes mightily to Cripple Creek’s economy.

According to the American Gaming Association, Cripple Creek’s 18 betting parlors showed a jump in profit of 55 percent, to $23 million from 2000 to 2001. Statewide, Colorado’s 43 casinos generate over 7,000 jobs, nearly $195 million in employee wages, and $92 million in gaming taxes.

According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, in 1998 Americans spent more money on gambling (about $50 billion) than on recorded music, theme parks, video games, spectator sports and movie tickets combined. Those industries combined generated about $40 billion. The commission said more than 53 million Americans, about 27 percent of the U.S. population over 21, visited casinos in 2001.