Cripple Creek and Teller County gearing up for banner gaming season
The good times are returning to Cripple Creek and Teller County this summer, as the gaming community and the CC/V district is gearing up for a banner year.
With the completion of a major main street facelift, intensive flood mitigation work, low gas prices, an improving economy and good numbers for the early spring, city leaders and casino operators are betting on a prosperous year. Moreover, many see the summer of 2015 as a big winner for the area, and a turning point for Creek gambling, capped by several signature expansions and projects. And to top matters off, Cripple Creek recently gained a niche as the first gaming community in Colorado to establish an official entertainment district, the first stage for offering 24-7 cocktail service– a first for any town in the state.
“We are really optimistic,” said Cripple Creek City Finance Director Paul Harris, who has witnessed the ups and downs of limited stakes gaming since the mid-1990s. “We are hoping for a really good summer.” Based on preliminary numbers, he sees this year as a time when local casinos may possibly record their first major gain in the total gambling wagers recorded and in overall casino winnings since 2004. After a rough winter, the Creek gaming market has rebounded and now sports a little more than 3,700 devices.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the town’s industry has struggled for more than 10 years. According to Harris’ latest figures, the Cripple Creek gaming community has collectively experienced a 30 percent decline in total gambling wagers since 2004, when local casinos nearly hit $3 billion mark for betting action. Over the last decade, the town has encountered a much leaner market, with fewer gambling options. In fact, Harris estimates that 60 percent of the decline in 2,600 betting devices recorded throughout the state has occurred in Cripple Creek.
This downward plunge in gaming activity has been attributed to such factors as the smoking ban, the recession, and the fires and floods that invaded the Pikes Peak region. The high level of natural disasters has forced the closure of Hwy. 24 on a frequent basis for the last two summers. Plus, last summer the town did a $5 million construction project in downtown Cripple Creek, a factor that further clobbered the gaming community financially.
But operators believe the worst is behind them. “We have had fires, floods, natural disasters and construction. We have seen it all,” related Eric Rose, general manager of Century casino. “We are excited for a good summer. There shouldn’t be any major disasters and things appear headed in the right direction. The economy is creeping along at a better pace.”
“We are off to a good start,” said Marc Murphy, the general manager of Bronco Billy’s, and a veteran casino operator since the beginning of gaming. Murphy says the preliminary numbers in May are solid and believes the current trends bode well for the industry. “I think it should be a really good summer.”
Bronco Billy’s has taken a big gamble on the town’s future by embarking on a major expansion spurt into the former Gold Rush and Gold Diggers properties at the corner of Bennett Avenue and Second Street. This is a 20,000 square-foot addition that represents one of the biggest additions the casino company has taken since Oct. 1991.
The new expansion, which opened several weeks ago, features 14 more deluxe hotel rooms, a micro-brew tap room, capped by a new partnership between Bronco Billy’s and the Woodland Park-based BierWerks, a major banquet facility, a take-out restaurant, more gaming and an additional table game section, and the prospects of re-opening the 900-seat outdoor Palladium amphitheater.
Work is still being done on certain aspects of the expansion, including an outdoor patio for the BierWerks Tap Room and the Pioneer Banquet Room, the town’s newest hub for meetings, parties and various functions.
The new expansion also tries to highlight the colorful history of the building, which once served as a prominent hardware store and an antique shop. Plus, the gold tinted ceilings, a popular fixture of the building and characteristic of its former stint as the Gold Rush casino, have been preserved. The building is also adorned with photos capturing the legacy associated with this historic gem.
“We have had an outstanding response to our expansion,” said Murphy. “People really like the roomy feel and the extra amenities.”
Moreover, he contends that the project, the eighth major expansion for the casino, is a good fit for the Bronco Billy’s brand.
Probably the biggest cheerleaders of the expansion are city leaders, who admit that when a brief attempt to revive the building, with The Rush casino, failed three years ago, a huge eyesore developed for downtown Cripple Creek.
In other casino enhancements, the Wildwood casino recently started an off-track betting area, with s variety of options for wagering on 16 daily tracks around the country, featuring a full lineup of horse, dog and harness racing. The area is highlighted by two huge 70-inch high definition television displays two 60-inch displays and 10, 50-inch displays and includes self-serve betting terminals, personal tellers, free open seating and complimentary cocktail service. It ranks as the sole off-track betting hub located inside a Colorado casino.
24/7 Cocktail Service and Non-Gaming Activity
In recent weeks, quite a community buzz has been created over the formation of an entertainment district, enabling casinos and even other businesses to establish common consumption areas for serving alcohol on a 24/7 basis.
This new change was recently approved by the city council and the licensing process has started for operators who want to obtain these special permits by forming promotional associations. “This will help us,” admitted Murphy. “It makes us into more of a traditional gaming town.”
With this new change, Cripple Creek will become the first town in the state that can provide 24/7 cocktail service.
Plus, casino operators say it will help them cater to certain patrons they are currently missing due to unusual work schedules and help foster more overnight stays. Currently, the serving of alcoholic drinks is prohibited from 2 to 7 a.m.
As for non-gaming action, the town is attracting more families. “Our visitation numbers are good,” said Harris. During an economic forecast forum several months ago, City Administrator Ray DuBois, while mentioning the gaming challenges confronting the city, noted that the town’s non-gaming attractions are faring quite well. “We are seeing many families coming up to Cripple Creek,” said DuBois. He reported a nearly 35 percent increase in visitors who frequented the train depot welcome center near the Cripple Creek District Museum last year, and noted that the town had stellar figures for the Heritage Center and jail museum.
More bets are definitely being placed on non-gaming amenities in Cripple Creek.
On June 3, the city council will hear plans for a new proposed signature gas station and convenience store next to the Wildwood casino. This project is being planned by American Gaming, which owns the Wildwood. If approved, the project could set the stage for a much needed major convenience hub in this section of town. Prior to the construction of the Wildwood casino, this part of town bustled with a popular Total station and convenience store at the entrance to the downtown. According to a letter by Wildwood general manager Kevin Werner, the casino group always wanted to add a gas station and convenience store at the east end of Cripple Creek to replace this former” iconic” convenience hub
Since the arrival of gaming, the city has sought to provide more services to residents. In April, the city, in cooperation with the Teller Senior Coalition, started a new one-day a week transit service between Cripple Creek and Woodland Park to allow citizens to do errands in the north part of the county. Efforts have been launched to improve transportation services for residents in southern Teller in the last several years.
The 2015 summer season will also feature many great events, including the 84th running of Donkey Derby Days and its summer rodeo. Recently, the city hired a new marketing director, Steve Kitzman, who is doing a number of surveys to query the views of local residents, business owners and casino operators regarding special events. Plus, regular live performances will occur at the Butte Theater with such shows as the popular musical Into the Woods and The 39 Steps Alfred Hitchcock drama, along with the Foul Play classic melodrama.