With the kick-off of summer, Cripple Creek casino operators and local community leaders are hedging their bets on a booming season and an impressive rebound from past years. Gone is the constant talk of a declining market, somber winning numbers and a lingering recession. Instead, the town is bracing itself for the first significant signs of new casino activity in several years, a spree of non-gaming projects and future plans for hotels, lodging facilities and even a recreation center. “All across the board, our numbers have been very positive,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White, in describing the overall casino and visitor activity in Cripple Creek. “Everything is up. It should be a good summer. We are also doing a lot more special events,” added White. On the gaming side, the town is reeling in its best numbers in overall bet volume at local casinos since 2004 with coin-in and table drops increasing by $10 million compared to last year at this time, according to city officials. “This is good news,” said City Finance Director Paul Harris, who attributes the rise in gaming fortunes to a better economic outlook. “The one fact a lot of people don’t realize is that we have not had a positive year (for coin-in numbers) since 2004.”
In his latest report, Harris also touted the fact that the town’s overall share of the limited gaming marketing continues to rise. Plus, the town’s casino winnings increased by 10.8 percent, based on the last recording period. And better yet, Cripple Creek is well poised to have at least 4,200 betting devices and games in play by the end of this month. That would be a big hike from the summer of 2011. But a few dark clouds confront the local industry. The aftermath of the devastating Waldo Canyon fire hasn’t been determined, with a week-long closing of Hwy. 24 impacting casino traffic significantly.
But compared to other locales in the Pikes Peak region, such as Manitou Springs and parts of Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek appears to have escaped the financial wrath of the Waldo Canyon blaze relatively unscathed. Business returned to normal last week, and many local leaders were cautiously optimistic over the fact that the highway reopened earlier than preliminary predictions. Although the Waldo was the most destructive blaze in Colorado history, firefighters succeeded in dousing the fire within two weeks. And at least for now, the immediate future for the summer appears quite promising.
Arrival of The Rush Within the next few weeks, Cripple Creek will see its first substantial new casino project in four years, with the opening of The Rush. The new casino, located at a popular facility once operated by the former Gold Rush, is owned by the Denver-based Partners CC group. Members of the ownership group have been working on the project for about 20 months. When it opens within the next several weeks, The Rush will bustle with close to 250 slot machines, three blackjack tables, a 3-card poker table and six (regular) poker tables. Within the next year, The Rush will house close to 350 betting devices and table games and will have roulette and craps. Other amenities include 14 hotel rooms, a full-service restaurant, called The Reserve at The Rush. The Reserve will be operated by James Faulkner, an award-winning chef, who graduated from the Paragon Culinary School and was trained by Master Chef Victor Matthews of Green Mountain Falls. In addition, plans are in the works for reopening the 900-seat Palladium and doing quality shows there. The owners of The Rush will be quite active in day-to-day operations. “One thing that will really set us apart is that the owners of The Rush will be on site,” said Joanna Walters, a co-owner and chief operating officer. “We will be very involved in the operations of the casino and look forward to talking to our customers.” Other members of the ownership team include Lance Dehning and Mike Huey. All three have a strong background in investing. As for other new gaming projects, Big Jim’s Gambling Hall and Saloon will soon undertake a small expansion into the former Virgin Mule facility. This should give the casino another 40 or so betting devices.
Changes are also expected at the Colorado Grande casino, which has been acquired by G Investments LLC, headed by David Minter, the chief operator of Johnny Nolon’s casino, located across the street from the Grande. This could lead to enhancements in the area of gaming, promotions and management, according to inside reports. But the summer of 2012 in Cripple Creek isn’t limited to new gaming activity.
After years of mulling various options, the first new bargain outlet will open its doors in Cripple Creek, with the new Family Dollar Store next to the post office. According to White, the 8,000-square-foot Family Dollar store should open within the next week. “That should be a very good addition to our community,” added White. For months, local residents have anxiously awaited the arrival of Family Dollar time in Cripple Creek. The non-gaming drive continues with plans for a putt-putt facility, south of town on Myers, and new amenities at the former Wild Horse casino building. Already, the upstairs Stallions teen club has been gaining more popularity. In addition, plans for a new business next to city hall are underway. Although the town’s non-gaming sector still doesn’t amount to that much, sales tax revenue has been increasing and visitation at city tourism hubs, such as the Cripple Creek Heritage Center, are quite strong. “All of our visitation numbers are pretty good,” said White. Plus, a few significant long-term projects are in the works.
The Wildwood casino is expected to pursue plans for a new 130-room hotel, according to Development Director Larry Manning. In the past, this project, which would be located west of the casino, was restricted by city zoning laws. But the city is now in the process of adopting a new development code that would allow this project to move forward. The Wildwood would still have to get its hotel design plans approved by the historic preservation commission and city council. The Wildwood also has plans for an expanded RV park. New Recreation Facility This summer also could determine the fate of a future bid for a recreation center off Teller One on property owned by Orin LaGree, the owner of Venture Foods. The future $2 million-plus recreation facility, which will include a new gymnasium, could become part of a future 20-acre development that would also include a much larger grocery store and other retail outlets. According to White, negotiations on property acquisitions will occur this year. And if plans move forward, the city may formalize its effort for a full-scale recreation facility next year. The proposed 20,000-square-foot center probably won’t open until 2014. Next year, LaGree may move forward with plans for a new grocery store. This rash of projects represent the most activity Cripple Creek has experienced in recent years. Local economic experts attribute this to a better economic outlook and the fact that many have delayed trips and vacations for such a long time.