Cripple Creek declares a party emergency

C5-26casino drinking.webripple Creek declares a party emergency

Rick Langenberg

Party-time has arrived in Cripple Creek, with the idea of “last call” for wine, beer and any alcoholic beverages of choice a thing of the past with the gaming town becoming the only legal place in Colorado to provide 24/7 cocktail service.

However, this privilege comes with a few catches, such as stringent rules for operators who choose to establish common consumption areas, allowing them to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. Currently, alcohol is prohibited between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. in Colorado casinos, even though gambling is permitted around the clock.

And except for special exceptions that haven’t been determined yet, no one can wander around the sidewalks and streets in Cripple Creek with alcoholic beverages in their hand, similar to Las Vegas and other gambling hot spots. They can, though, sip margaritas, whiskey shots, craft beer, California wine and any alcoholic beverages at an outdoor patio or section that is part of a business that obtains the necessary licensing, under the new plan.

Following a public hearing before a large crowd of casino operators and residents, the Cripple Creek City Council last week said “yes” to an emergency law that establishes a defined entertainment district and permits the city to become the local liquor authority for establishing 24-hour common consumption areas. Casino properties that want to become part of the district have to form promotional associations and abide by a number of security rules, including a details list of dos and don’ts.

The new entertainment district closely parallels the current area where gaming occurs now in Cripple Creek. It won’t encompass the entire gaming district, which would have exceeded the allowable acreage for an entertainment area in Colorado.

City officials, council members and casino operators were highly supportive of the pro-party measure during a hearing last week, citing the advantage of giving the town an economic, competitive edge for the summer season.

“It makes perfect sense for Cripple Creek,” said City Administrator Ray DuBois, in explaining the benefits of the emergency rule changes with entertainment districts. “Nobody wants it be a Las Vegas. We want to work with everybody.”

“This would allow the casinos to pay our bills,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Zoellner. Councilman and veteran bar owner Terry Wahrer cited the new law as the first step for casinos seeking to obtain this around-the-clock liquor service ability. But at the same time, he admitted the town may be stretching the limits in designating this proposed plan as an emergency.

A boost for business

Several casino operators, however, noted the financial struggles they have undergone in recent years and believe such a pro-24/7 cocktail service rule could help reverse the downward trend. With a better road situation along U.S. Hwy. 24, coupled with the completion of a major main street facelift and an improving economy, many casino operators say the summer of 2015 could be a promising season.

“We have had our tails handed to us by Black Hawk,” said Larry Hill, the chief executive officer for the Triple Crown casinos. “It (the entertainment district) is a strategy. This will allow us to get a leg up on the competition.”

“We have been struggling as an industry for years,” said Kevin Werner, the general manager of the Wildwood casino. “This could be very helpful for us.”

“This is a branding issue,” admitted Laura Long, a representative of the Cripple Creek Casino Association. She and other casino representatives believe that the option of 24/7 cocktail service throughout town could help generate more media coverage for Cripple Creek. She reminded the council that this would become the first ever entertainment district in the state, a development that could give the town a niche. “It is kind of a race,” said Long, who told the council that Black Hawk also is mulling this common consumption possibility.

As an added advantage, the casino operators cited safety. With a 2 a.m. shut-off period for serving alcoholic beverages, they noted the problems associated with people who hastily leave casinos and sometimes try to drive home intoxicated. They believe the common consumption areas could encourage more people to stay overnight at local lodging establishments and not try to guzzle drinks down during the last call, just before 2 a.m.

Cripple Creek Police Chief Mike Rulo said law enforcement agencies are willing to work with the casino industry in making the new common consumption areas a success. He cautioned that a lot more steps have to be taken by the casinos seeking to apply, and that these common consumption, promotional associations have many requirements. “We are all aware that this is a little bit of an experiment,” said Rulo. If the promotional associations don’t follow the rules, Rulo noted that they would lose their 24/7, alcohol licensing.

However, not everyone who attended last week’s hearing was thrilled by the idea of 24/7 cocktail service in the Creek. A few residents questioned the idea of turning this into an emergency law. One citizen asked that the bill be presented to the citizens of Cripple Creek for a vote

Other complaints dealt with turning Cripple Creek into an amusement district that only benefitted local casinos.

But the biggest concern of most residents was tackled by DuBois at the outlet of last week’s hearing. According to many preliminary comments, residents adamantly opposed the idea of opening up an entertainment district that allowed people to consume drinks publicly on the sidewalks and public streets of the downtown.

If the common consumption areas work, then DuBois hinted that Cripple Creek may entertain the option of extending this to an outdoor area for special events. But even if this occurred, the area would be limited to a street or block where no motorists or vehicles are permitted, and beverages could only be consumed outdoors with designated plastic cups provided by the various participating businesses.

That type of situation is permitted in a certain section of Greeley, one of the few spots in Colorado that has an active common consumption district. The legal door was open for developing these areas, based on legislation passed by state lawmakers.

But no entity in Colorado has taken advantage of new rules permitting the establishment of 24/7 entertainment districts.

With the Cripple Creek Council action, 24-7 drink service by various operators could occur within the next month a half for those casinos and businesses that apply and agree to the stipulated rules. The goal is to have the new common consumption areas on board in time for the main bulk of the summer season.