by Rick Langenberg:
The Rush is on in Cripple Creek, with the local gaming community ending a four-year-plus drought in sporting a new major casino project. The Rush boom became official during Cripple Creek’s recent Salute to American Veterans Rally, opening inside a popular, attractive facility known as the former Gold Rush Hotel and Casino. The new casino opening, which marks the first of a major gaming entity since the summer of 2008, is being warmly greeted by gambling buffs and visitors, who have been gearing up to play the betting devices on display for more than a month.
This enthusiasm, though, probably doesn’t compare to that of city officials, who have hedged their bets on Cripple Creek edging past the 4,000 mark in total betting devices for the first time in nearly two years. That mark was reached with The Rush opening and the forthcoming expansion of Big Jim’s, with the city receiving device fee payments for a lineup that will soon exceed 4,200 games of chance. “That’s good news,” commented Cripple Creek Finance Director Paul Harris. News regarding The Rush opening has been the talk of the town for weeks. “We are very excited,” said Rob Sagginario, general manager of The Rush, following another 18-hour work day recently, prior to their recent opening. In fact, the project has been in the works since Oct. 2010 through a Colorado-based ownership group, who plan to assume the role as good-will ambassadors for The Rush. The owners, who are mostly from the Denver area, have a strong background in real estate investing. “We bring a tremendous amount of passion and heart into this,” said Joanna Walters, a co-owner and a chief operating officer, when describing the owners who plan to maintain a visible presence at the casino property. According to Walters, the Rush owners and management team want to retain the popular reputation of the former Gold Rush and bring the casino property to new heights. “We plan to push the envelope a little,” said Walters, who has cited a different attitude and mind-set among The Rush team than other operators.
But getting the doors of the casino reopened has been quite a challenge and has involved major renovation work and months of preparation. The gaming property, known for its gold ceilings and chandeliers, was shut down in the fall of 2010, following a dispute between the former operator and the building owner. Since that time, a sense of angst has pervaded the Creek gaming community. The closure of the former Gold Rush was coupled by the ongoing recession and the lingering effects of the smoking ban. This year, the gaming market rebounded slightly, but then got walloped by the Waldo Canyon fire. According to The Rush operators, the casino project has now discovered “light at the end of the tunnel.” “There has been a lot of blood, sweat, tears and green with this project,” added Sagginario, who describes the management team as second to none. Sagginario, who sports considerable gaming experience in Florida, along with major management stints with American Airlines and a national security company, said the current management crew has exhibited a level of dedication and innovation he has never experienced in years of working with major corporations. “I am very impressed with the team we have assembled.” “It is all about customer service. We want this to be a great, fun place for the customers and a fun place in which to work. We plan to do things differently than other people in town,” added the casino general manager. As for the overall gaming amenities, The Rush has initially opened with approximately 270 slots, 3 blackjack tables a three-card poker table and six poker tables. The poker tables will eventually be relocated to another building. Within the next year, the casino will add craps and roulette to its lineup and be equipped with close to 400 betting devices. Also, the casino will feature 14 hotel rooms, a number of which have been renovated and four special suites. In addition, The Rush is making a valiant bid in the town’s growing competitive culinary lineup with The Reserve.
The Reserve is manned by James Faulkner, an award-winning chef, who graduated from the Paragon Culinary School and started Wild Goose Catering in 2009. The Reserve will specialize in buffets and will showcase some of Faulkner’s special premiere dishes, including upscale home-style burgers, smoked meatloaf, sausage, wild game, wine basted pork and salmon, just to name a few. The Rush owners cite a slew of 40 great dishes that Faulkner, who trained with master chef Victor Matthews of Green Mountain Falls, can craft and tantalize the taste buds of hungry gamblers and visitors. And The Rush plans to reopen the 900-seat Palladium amphitheater in the near future and do a major show this year. In its heyday, the Palladium played hosted to many great nostalgic musical shows in the past, such as Steven Stills, Blood Sweat and Tears, Jefferson Starship, Little Feet and more. However, The Rush mainly plans to hedge their bets on great service and innovative marketing. “We plan to do a lot of different promotions,” said Marketing Director Christopher Beer, who previously worked with the Coca-Cola Company in Cairo, Egypt and was part of the Colorado Advertising Club.
Initially, they plan to feature promotions that highlight much interaction between the personable owners and the customers, such as “Beat the Owners.” Also, The Rush plans to do a number of enticing giveaways. They are planning a big grand opening party. The owners, part of a group called Partners CC, also are quite optimistic of their prospects. “We feel pretty good about our chances,” said Lance Dehning, in a recent interview, in describing the overall market and the enthusiasm towards their project. He admits that many Cripple Creek casino employees and players speak fondly of the old Gold Rush gaming days. In fact, The Rush’s main challenge for their lengthy pre-opening period had been keeping customers from trying to play the slots, prior to when they got the final okay from gaming regulators. “It’s amazing how many people came in here every day, prior to us being opened,” related Sagginario. “There has been a tremendous amount of interest in this project.” Dehning agrees, saying the owners have done their share of mini-casino tours and fielded questions from potential customers. Now, those questions are a thing of the past with the burgeoning of The Rush.