Colorado gasoline prices are at an all-time high.
The AAA certified that brutal truth Monday when it announced that the average price of a gallon of regular gas had climbed to $4.91 in the Centennial State.
That was still lower than the national average of $4.97.
But it was 78 cents higher than Colorado’s average a month ago. And up $1.61 from a year ago.
On June 11, the national average topped $5 a gallon for the first time in U.S. history.
While oil companies are reporting record profits, the rest of us are paying the price at the pump.
It’s not just consumers and commuters feeling the pinch, though.
Businesses who rely on customers commuting to their retail properties are seeing the effects as well.
Certainly count Colorado’s casinos and gaming establishments among that group.
Colorado casinos’ mountain locales add miles
The state’s casino set-up presents an almost unique situation.
Online casino gaming hasn’t been legalized. And the retail establishments are chiefly clustered, of course, in the small mountain towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Those locales are only reachable by twisting drives up (mainly) two-lane state highways.
The drives are even more interesting when the snow flies. And in the Colorado mountains, that means anywhere from September through May.
Rockslides also are a hazard as well — particularly in Clear Creek Canyon en route to Black Hawk and Central City.
Drivers also have to be vigilant of wildlife crossing the roadways — most often after dark.
Black Hawk and Central City are approximately 40 miles from Denver.
Cripple Creek, meanwhile, is roughly 45 miles from Colorado Springs. And it’s almost 90 miles from Pueblo.
“(Traveling distance here in Colorado) is absolutely a factor,” Matt Andrighetti, the general manager of Cripple Creek’s Wildwood Casino, recently told PlayColorado. “It’s not just the distance. It’s traveling up the mountain roads, winding roads with wildlife out a night. It’s more of a disincentive to make the journey than it would be if your casino was next to your downtown barbershop.
“Colorado is definitely in a unique position. I wouldn’t say we’re the only ones in the United States, but it certainly gives us a unique challenge.”
To meet that challenge, a number of Colorado casinos do make use of small shuttles and buses.
Ashley Rios, a host at the Saratoga Casino in Black Hawk, says the buses remain popular with casino guests traveling from Denver.
And that popularity has only increased with the rising fuel prices, Rios said.
Wildwood employees enjoy discount at company gas station
It’s not just the public traveling to the casinos and surrounding businesses. It’s the casino, hotel and business employees as well.
Andrighetti estimates that 60-65 percent of the Wildwood’s 300-some employees live in Teller County.
Most of those employees reside in Woodland Park. And, for them, that’s a 25-30-mile drive at most.
He also figures that 20 percent make the commute from Colorado Springs. And most of the rest live in Pueblo, Canon City or Lake County.
Some Wildwood employees are commuting on the property’s shuttle. Or taking advantage of the 14 rooms of employee housing at one of the two on-site hotels, the Gold King Inn.
Still, it adds up to a hefty employee fuel expense.
And the Wildwood, the self-promoted “Highest Casino in the World,” decided to pitch in this spring.
It was an in a unique position to do so, owning a gas station across the street from the property.
At that station, the Gas-n-Roll, Wildwood employees receive a discount of 75 cents off the price of as gallon. The offer is good for 20 gallons per week.
Andrighetti said the employee perk originally was slated to end June 19. But it has since been extended and likely will run through the fall, he said.
“Even with the employees who live in town, it’s a double-edged sword,” Andrighetti explained. “You travel a lot of places for groceries and hardware stores and entertainment. You’re still driving (out of town) even if you’re not necessarily driving to work.”
New Wildwood customer fuel promo ‘in works’
Along with the employee discount, the Wildwood also featured a fuel promotion for its customers this spring.
The “Gas Giveaway” program featured randomized drawings for free gas vouchers. The promo’s top prizes were five $500 pre-paid gas cards.
However, that promo ended June 15.
Andrighetti said the Gas Giveaway so well received that the Wildwood likely will soon roll out another fuel-themed incentive program.
This one, he said, most likely will offer a Gas-n-Roll discount based on the points level casino patrons attain on their Club Wild loyalty cards.
“It’s in the works and will likely be coming out here in the next weeks,” Andrighetti said.
In the meantime, as far as gas prices affecting the volume of customer traffic at the Wildwood, Andrighetti said it’s been tough to tell.
“We are hearing comments from our customers. It’s certainly becoming more of a travel burden than it already was,” he said. “As far as traffic is concerned, we’re kind of in a weird period right now. We’re just ramping up for summer. In May, though, we just had fires in our backyard and then we had had two and a half feet of snow up here at the end of the month. So it’s kind of a hard time to judge if (customer) traffic has been affected. It’s having an effect, but the degree of that effect isn’t real determinable right now.”
Gas-themed promos abound at Colorado casinos
While the Wildwood’s employee fuel discount program is a Colorado casino rarity, gas-themed promos are anything but.
At the Saratoga, the casino’s “Gas Card Plinko” promo has been running from 5-8 p.m. every Thursday in June.
Every hour during that period, a pair of casino hot seat winners are chosen to drop “pucks” down a game board. Depending on where those pucks land, patrons can earn up to $200 in pre-paid gas cards on their first drop and up to $200 in free promo play on their second.
“It’s been well-received,” Rios said of the promo program. “It’s definitely been popular with customers.”
However, Rios said there are currently no plans to extend the Plinko program into July. She did, though, say it’s under consideration for a return later this summer — especially if fuel costs remain high.
Meanwhile, Black Hawk’s Z Casino is featuring a “Fill Your Tank” promo this month.
There, from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. every Monday through Thursday, patrons can earn $20 in free fuel for every 1,000 in same-day base points they earn on their loyalty cards.
The maximum is $100 in gas vouchers, and the program expires June 30.
Down in the Four Corners area of the state in Towaoc, the Ute Mountain Casino is holding a “Great Gas Giveaway.”
The promo program runs from 5-9 p.m. every Sunday in June. It features hot seat drawings every hour, and selected winners receive $200 in free fuel.
For the promo’s grand prize, 9 p.m. winner on Sunday, June 26 will win $2,500 of fuel vouchers.
The above casinos have not indicated whether the promos — or similar fuel-themed programs — will continue past June.
But if Colorado gas prices remain near record levels, the incentive will most certainly be there.