Cripple Creek Casinos Feeling Labor Squeeze


As the world continues to come out of its coronavirus cocoon and businesses across the country grapple with finding enough workers, Cripple Creek casino owners are finding themselves a microcosm of a national predicament. According to the  Colorado Springs Gazette, for the casinos in the mining town an hour outside of Colorado Springs, the struggle is, well, real.

“We’re in an employee crisis,” Scott Porter, director of corporate casino operations for Triple Crown Casinos, told the Gazette. “We can’t even get applications. It’s crazy.”

Triple Crown owns the Brass Ass, JP McGill’s, and Midnight Rose casinos, and it is partnered with BetMGM (Midnight Rose) and BetRivers (JP McGill’s) for retail and digital sports betting. The Brass Ass does not yet have a sports betting partner. There are about a dozen casinos in Cripple Creek, and all have sports betting licenses — and employee shortages.

All three Triple Crown casinos are in Cripple Creek, a Teller County city located near the base of Pikes Peak.

Sign-on bonuses, overtime common

Most Cripple Creek casinos are offering employee sign-on bonuses, some are offering employee referral bonuses, and current employees are working overtime throughout the town. While that extra bonus on a paycheck might be nice for a little while, casino managers say burnout and quality of service are key concerns.

“There’s a ripple effect; it’s sad because we pride ourselves on our customer service,” Porter said. “Not having the staff is going to hurt us and I feel bad about that.”

Cripple Creek is not in a vacuum. The national labor shortage has been in the news for weeks, if not months. Colorado’s casinos were shut down for three months in the first half of 2020 before being given the go-ahead to reopen on June 15, 2020. From there, state officials kept the casinos at limited capacity through the end of the year.

Last year, tourism was still down, travel restrictions were still in place, and many people were wary of going out in public, much less into an enclosed space — like a casino — for several hours.

Unemployment benefits keeping people at home?

But fast forward to now. About 42% of all Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and, according to the Mayo Clinic, more than 50% of all Coloradans have had at least one dose. Colorado is among the states offering up cash incentives for vaccinations, and it has already awarded $1 million to one state resident via the vaccine lottery.

The U.S. government also continues to offer an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits following more than a year of additional aid. Depending on what side of the aisle you stand on, some say the benefits are making it more attractive for workers to stay home while others say employers are exploiting workers and should offer more attractive pay.

In April, Colorado’s unemployment rate was 6.4%.  The rate in Teller County was 5.9%. Gilpin County, where casino towns Black Hawk and Central City are located, had a 7.6% unemployment rate in April. Still, it doesn’t appear that casinos in Gilpin are feeling the employment squeeze as much as those in Cripple Creek.

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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