Bronco Billy’s Lassos Gold Rush Site

TMJCOVER2.10Cripple Creek and Billy’s preparing for new economic gold rush

Rick Langenberg

A new gold rush is brewing in Cripple Creek, with one of the more experienced gambling players reviving a popular casino property that has mostly sat idle for the last four and a half years.

Bronco Billy’s casino, a gaming establishment that opened its doors in Oct. 1991, is making another major move by expanding into the 20,000 square-foot-building that formerly housed the Gold Rush, Gold Diggers and The Rush casinos. The building also is regarded as one of the town’s more historic commercial hubs, once serving as a prominent hardware store and an antique shop.

When completed within the next 90 to 120 days, the project will make Billy’s one of Cripple Creek’s biggest gaming properties in total footage and will provide a slew of new amenities.

Altogether, the new development, to be called Bronco Billy’s Casino and Hotel, will feature a banquet and events center, a micro-beer tap room and outdoor seating area, 14 new hotel rooms, more gaming and an additional table game section, a take-out food restaurant and another 100 or so parking spots.

“This really allows us to expand our brand,” said Bronco Billy’s general manager and co-owner Marc Murphy, who cites the expansion as one of Billy’s most significant moves into an adjacent building. “It is nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. We are really looking forward to this.”

When Billy’s opened its doors in 1991, it occupied a small, cramped space with less than 100 devices and 50 employees. With the new move, the casino’s eighth major expansion, it will bustle with more than 800 betting devices and games and 350 employees. By a size prospective, Billy’s will become one of the biggest gaming properties in town and will dominate the east side of the 200 block.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Murphy in describing the new deal the casino has crafted with the out-of-state building owners. Construction work, which began last week, is now moving full-speed ahead on the new expansion by the Colorado Springs-based Peak Professional Contractors, who have done work for Billy’s in the past. “The timing is just right. It makes a lot of sense. This will really stabilize the (200 Bennett) block,” added Murphy.

Probably the biggest cheerleaders are city officials, who have expressed growing concerns over a leaner gaming market and an eyesore with too many vacant casino buildings on the main street.

According to the Billy’s general manager, who hails as the only head local casino gm that has occupied the same position with the same gaming company since the birth of limited stakes gaming, Billy’s has eyed the Gold Rush building for the last five or six years.

A lively history

The gaming community went into economic shell shock in the fall of 2010, when the former Gold Rush casino was shut down following a lease disagreement between the operators at the time and the building owners. The property then experienced a dose of renewed life when The Rush casino, owned by real estate investors from Denver, attempted to revive the building in the summer of 2012. However, their attempts were short-lived, with the casino and hotel getting shut down less than six months after they opened. According to many reports, the group lacked overall gaming experience and couldn’t crack the often tight Cripple Creek market.

“We have been around for 24 years and have been pretty stable,” noted Murphy, who is overly optimistic about the new change.

According to Murphy, Billy’s will put its “stamp” on the new gaming property, meaning that it will mesh with Billy’s overall theme. “We are a Colorado-style casino,” said the Billy’s general manager. “We are not Vegas.”

As a result, Billy’s will retain many of the historic remnants of the building such as the gold-tinted ceilings and the many murals that depict the building’s colorful past.

But don’t look for any glamorous chandeliers and glitzier touches that were often highlighted by the owners of The Rush. Also, the “Gold Rush” name won’t be used in any way and has already been taken off the building entrance.

One of the more notable enhancements will consist of a tap room and outdoor seating area for microbrews, drinks and certain food items through a partnership between Billy’s and the Woodland Park-based BierWerks. In fact, Billy’s will offer an area that draws many similarities with the BierWerks site off Hwy. 24 in downtown Woodland Park, only without a brewery. According to Murphy, negotiations have occurred between BierWerks owner Arden Weatherford, one of the big movers and shakers with the new Woodland Station development, and Billy’s Assistant General Manager Ben Douglass. “This is just another amenity we will offer our customers and guests. We think this will be a great addition,” noted Murphy.

Murphy says Billy’s is also exploring the option of reviving the Palladium area outdoors, but doesn’t expect that to occur this year.