Best Of The High Country 2019

Best Of Cripple Creek   

The Most Money Won and Where

Gold  – Wildwood

Silver –  Century

Bronze – Bronco Billy’s

Honorable Mention – Triple Crown

The wagering winning amounts in the Creek are staggering and if we released final figures, you wouldn’t see us anymore. (Of course, that may come as good news to some critics, but this is a Best Of contest, so no need for ugly politics.) It’s time to beat the drums and award the always wild Wildwood as the premiere place for big gaming strikes. No competition, as the Wildwood casino, right at the entrance to the historic district and known for its Las Vegas look, easily captured the gold, courtesy of some impressive jackpot combinations with mighty dollar signs. However, many of our Best Of respondents lauded with winnings at several other casinos, with Century (Bob Womack’s old hangout) and Bronco Billy’s, garnering many tallies.

Best Casino Atmosphere

Gold – Bronco Billy’s

Silver – Wildwood

Bronze – Triple Crown

Honorable Mention – Johnny Nolon’s

How can you compete with an establishment that has a love for expansions, while still adhering to their core Colorado-friendly image? Bronco Billy’s, which opened their latest expansion, the new Christmas Casino & Inn at Bronco Billy’s just prior to the Yuletide celebration, easily captured this title for yet another year. Billy’s, believe it or not, stated out as a very small establishment in Oct. 1991 that gained a strong reputation for establishing friendly customer service and developing a niche as a real Colorado casino. After nearly 10 expansions, capped by their impressive surge into the former Gold Rush and more recently, the acquisition of the old Imperial hotel and casino and development of Santa’s Colorado gaming headquarters (with the Christmas Casino & Inn), the same theme remains. Amazing, and this comes on top of plans for developing a new six-story, four-star hotel and large parking garage.

However, many of our readers sided with the Las Vegas look of the Wildwood and the diversity of properties offered by the ever popular Triple Crown.

But as a whole, the atmosphere of Cripple Creek casinos is touted as a real winner, and one reason to play in Teller County, rather than deal with the losing hassles of Black Hawk, the ugly villain of Colorado gambling

Loosest Slots

Gold – Triple Crown

Silver – Johnny Nolon’s

Bronze – Bronco Billy’

Honorable Mention – Century

No competition whatsoever, as the Triple Crown Casinos (with Midnight Rose, Brass Ass and McGills) easily gained the illustrious title as King of the Loose in Cripple Creek, or where gamblers can make out with their bets. This year’s victory was attributed to sterling reviews of the player-friendly slots at Brass Ass and Midnight Rose. This was the second consecutive year Triple Crown has won this competition.

But Johnny Nolon’s, which always fares well in the battle of the loose, continued to gain a strong following for the winning percentages they provide, which are frequently promoted outside their casino. Theyy would have made old Johnny proud. Bronco Billy’s, as expected, generated many votes, as part of their ongoing monthly giveaways. As a whole, most casinos scored high tallies in this competition.

It has been noted by several elected leaders, town officials and others that Cripple Creek needs to tout their bigger payouts or better prospects of winning than their competitors near Denver. Frankly, Cripple Creek is a more fun place to gamble and one in which you have a better chance to win. Just ask our new city administrator Mark Campbell, who used to count his losses at the Black Hawk money menace

Best Casino Table Games

Gold – Triple Crown (Brass Ass)

Silver – Double Eagle

Bronze – Wildwood

Honorable Mention – Bronco Billy’s

When Amendment 50 was implemented in the summer of 2009, the stakes definitely changed for Colorado gaming with the arrival of new (more Vegas-style games), such as Roulette and Craps and much higher limits. Although Cripple Creek hasn’t fared as well as Black Hawk with these games, the  town definitely abounds with much more excitement. Probably no local place characterizes this fun local table action as much as the Brass Ass, part of the Triple Crown family. This is just what folks imaged with these new added games, without getting too pretentious or too Vegas or Black Hawkish.

But many of our voters supported the more laid-back table action at the Double Eagle, featuring a very comfortable area for table action. And not surprisingly, Wildwood, set up in a way that supports table action, was a top pick in this competition, along with Bronco Billy’s. The great atmosphere at Cripple Creek table game areas still rates as one of the town’s best known secrets

Best Food Deals

Gold – Wildwood

Silver – Bronco Billy’s

Bronze – Century

Honorable Mention: Johnny Nolon’s

In another repeat victory for the land of the Wild, the Wildwood casino snagged the gold in this heavily competitive contest. Like most gaming towns, the Creek is bustling with great casino food deals. The Wildwood, with its variety of choices, and ability to change things up, easily prevailed. It has gained a reputation for food discounts. But Billy’s also put up quite a fight. In recent years, Billy’s has attracted many lunch and dinner-goers with its traditional Home  Cafe, the Baja Billy’s, a great place for Mexican food lovers and margarita fans, and the Creek satellite headquarters of BierWerks. 

Plus, the Mid-City Grill of Century has gained much support as a casino restaurant with some of the best food deals. Overall, food deals in the Creek are quite abundant for regular players.

Best Casino Lodging In Cripple Creek

Gold – Century

Silver – Wildwood

Bronze – Bronco Billy’s

Honorable Mention: Triple Crown/Double Eagle

For the fifth consecutive year, TMJ Best Of participants favored the luxurious suites and lodging amenities of Century casino. No competition whatsoever for the gold among king/queen stays at  the town’s current lineup of approximately 500 rooms. We knew something was special about the Century rooms, when they were snagged away during an auction, hosted by TMJ, even before the scheduled time of the event.

But this year, there was quite a run for the money for the silver and bronze, with the Wildwood, courtesy of the convenience and pool splendor of the Gold King Inn, snagging the runner-up spot. However, more TMJ Best Of respondents have favored g Bronco Billy’s these days, with their very impressive renovation of the old Imperial, done in a way that added some class, but that maintained its historic look. The Christmas Inn is quite the place.

Future lodging is quite the topic, as the town could gain possibly 500 new rooms within the next few years, with all the big gaming players, Triple Crown, Bronco Billy’s, Century and Wildwood, proposing some ambitious projects, as Cripple Creek enters the next phase of development. The race is on.  Look for some of these projects to be completed in 2020.

Best Casino Entertainment

Gold – Triple Crown

Silver – Wildwood

Bronze – Bronco Billy’s

Honorable Mention: Casino Rumors

The Triple Crown captured this title again. For the last two years, their shows at the Brass Ass (most recently, Exit West) have gained a strong following. They have the best setup for entertainment and come up with great acts for the Cripple Creek gaming crowd.  Shows are held at least once a month, and sometimes twice, and even occasionally, three times. Who says gambling and entertainment is not a good mix for the Creek? Sure, Vegas doesn’t have anything to worry about, but the entertainment offerings are quite good for a small gaming town. The Triple Crown was followed by both the Wildwood and Bronco Billy’s.

But when it comes to crazy entertainment, many of our voters sided with casino rumors, which of course, are always true. If I said otherwise, I would be put to death.  Their needs to be a casino rumor contest, hosted by one of the local gaming establishments, one of these days.

Best Casino Restaurant

Gold – the Steakhouse (Bronco Billy’s)

Silver – Maggie’s (Colorado Grande)

Bronze – Joe’s Diner (Wildwood)

Yes, shoot the cannons off. It seems that ever since the TMJ Best Of Contest was launched, The Steakhouse has reigned as the premiere gaming eatery. The Steakhouse is known for their trophy steak and fish dishes, and a great atmosphere. Just make sure you plan ahead, as this place is very, very popular. Many Best Of fans, though, enjoy, Maggie’s at Colorado Grande. How can you argue with one of the town’s more colorful ghosts. Plus, Maggie’s has been a culinary fixture since the beginning of gambling, winning many Best Of awards.

Best Fine Dining

Gold – Down Under (Triple Crown)

Silver – Winfield’s (Double Eagle)

Bronze – The Steakhouse (Bronco Billy’s)

For that special night out on the town, or a meal to impress a special someone, the Down Under still reigns as Cripple Creek’s Fine Dining King. And on special weekends, they offer some incredible culinary deals.  Just ask the staff of TMJ. Maybe, this is an attribute to the restaurant’s Australian flair, great entrees and buffets, and even some ideal Ausie wines. But many enjoy the enticing atmosphere at Winfield’s. And of course, The Steakhouse is great for almost any occasion.

Best Cripple Creek Casino Bar

Gold – Woody’s (Wildwood)

Silver – Pint & Platter (Triple Crown)

Bronze – Baja Billy’s (Bronco Billy’s)

Casino bars are becoming a growing part of the town’s social scene. So not surprisingly, one of the first places in town, Woody’s, which is a happenin’ place on the weekends, and has an ideal sport bar atmosphere, snagged the spotlight. However, many TMJ respondents favor the Irish digs at the Pint & Platter and the great atmosphere of Baja Billy’s. Both of these latter establishments have been familiar favorites.

Best Cripple Creek Bar

Gold – Ralf’s Breakroom

Silver – Pint and Platter (McGills-Triple Crown)

Bronze – Woody’s (Wildwood)

For another consecutive year, TMJ partipants rallied behind Ralf’s Breakroom as the town’s overall  favorite bar. Owned by the town’s infamous and ultra-charismatic mayor pro tem (please don’t hold that against Ralf’s), and frequented by some illustrious leaders, head officials and journalists (no names will be released to protect the guilty), Ralf’s is the place to go to obtain the real news about the operations of city hall and not to rehash the fake news. Ralf’s is a great place to go, whoever you are, and is quite an impressive eatery, definitely a big step above the usual bar/tavern type of food. But in growing indications that casino bars are becoming more local friendly, both the Pint & Platter of McGills, a popular and quite authentic Irish pub, and Woody’s of Wildwood, snagged many votes, along with Baja Billy’s of Bronco Billy’s. You don’t have to be too much of a gambler to enjoy the above-mentioned hangouts.

Best Players Club

Gold – Bronco Billy’s

Silver – Triple Crown

Bronze – Century

Honorable Mention: Wildwood

Chalk up another victory for Bronco Billy’s, which is never afraid to tout their player’s club. And with all of their expansions, their player’s club has even been elevated a major notch. It only makes sense that the place with the best casino atmosphere would have the best players club. Snagging the runner-up spot was Triple Crown, closely followed by Century. All in all, Best Of responders praised the players’ clubs of all of the casinos.

Best Cripple Creek Retail Shop

Gold – Creations Everlasting (Double Eagle)

Silver – 9494 Gifts With Altitude

Bronze – Cripple Creek Candy

Honorable Mention: Aspen Mine Gift Shop

The  myth that gambling and retail don’t mix is being shattered in the Creek gaming community, with more non-gaming businesses emerging every month, well at least is seems that way. Even at a recent council meeting, the talk was about a new hair salon.  The Creations Everlasting store once again took top laurels in this competition. The shop and boutique offers quite  variety and is located in a prime and convenient location in the Double Eagle casino area. Some of their items come from certain hiding places in LA and New York City. You wouldn’t quite believe what they supply. And then there is the personable Edie, the owner of the business, who will definitely help you find what you are looking for and offer a colorful local story or two or three. The 9494 shop also fared well in the competition, along with Cripple Creek Candy and Aspen Mine Gift Shop. 

Best Cripple Creek Event/Festival

Gold – Donkey Derby Days

Silver – Salute to American Veterans Rally

Bronze – Cripple Creek Ice Fest

In a slight changing of the guard in the ever competitive showdown for best local event (this is a town that takes special events brutally serious. just ask Events Guru Steve Kitzman), most TMJ respondents favored tradition, and there is no better event than Donkey Derby Days that serves this purpose. Efforts have been made to revitalize this tradition that has thrived for decades. But once again, votes came pouring in for the festival that probably brings the largest crowds into town, the Salute to American Veterans Rally. And according to promoter Jim Wear, last year’s rally featured the best cooperation from city staff since the event came back to Cripple Creek after a slight hiatus.  However, closely following in the tail of the Salute is the Ice Fest. Although the 2019 Fest didn’t quite attract the crowds as the previous record-breaking year, it is now rated by a key publication in Denver as one of the top outings in Colorado for the month of February. This one is definitely a favorite among the TMJ staff, and no, that’s not because of the Ice Bar.

Part two…

Individual Champs Finally Announced

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

In the final announcement of our annual Best Of The High Country, 2019 contest, and with no further delays, here are more winners and finalists. In our March 5 issue, we highlighted mostly casino, business and area-wide group champs.  Now, we focus on more of our individual competitions.  

We would like to thank everyone who participated, as the volume of responses shattered previous records.

Best Casino Manager

Gold – Eric Rose  Century

Silver – Marc Murphy  Bronco Billy’s

Bronze – David Minter  Johnny Nolon’s/Colorado Grande

In a verdict that ran close to that of a year ago, Eric Rose, the head skipper for Century Casinos, snagged the gold. Eric often provides a much needed breath of fresh air to the often mundane Cripple Creek council meetings, offering the gaming industry perspective. His talks on lodging, recreational marijuana and special events are pretty much right on the mark. Marc Murphy, the veteran manager of Bronco Billy’s, grabbed the silver. Marc has been on the Creek gaming forefront since day one. Also, David Minter, who makes occasional sneak visits to council meetings to see how they spend (or misspend) casino revenue, garnered many tallies.

Best Bartender  In Cripple Creek

Gold – Jorge Rierra   Triple Crown

Silver –  Bronco Billy’s staff

Bronze –  Wildwood staff

Jorge Rierra gained the gold as the top bartender in Cripple Creek. Jorge is part of the Triple Crown team.  However, the respective staffs of Bronco Billy’s and Wildwood fared quite well in this competition.

Best Area Bartender

Gold – Kellye Nielson Historic Ute Inn

Silver – Blue Moose Crew

Bronze – McGinty’s Staff

Kellye Nielson of the Historic Ute Inn won a decisive victory as the best bartender on The Mountain. No question about it. Kellye is known for her friendly demeanor, and yes, knowing how to grapple with the staff of TMJ. That accomplishment alone deserves a raise, as the TMJ folks are a tough crowd.

But the friendly crew from the Blue Moose Tavern in Green Mountain Falls secured the Silver, while the staff at McGinty’s also received high marks.

Best Public Servant

Gold -The Cripple Creek Police Department

Silver – Elijah Murphy  Historic Ute Inn/Downtown Development Authority and Main Street

Bronze – Teller County Sheriff Department

In another  repeat championship of epic proportions, the Cripple Creek Police Department, under the leadership of Mike Rulo, easily snagged the gold in one of the most contested Best Of showdowns. The town’s police department has gained many laurels in the last two years, after a period of frequent officer turnover. Big improvements have transpired with the PD’s relationship with the business community, local casinos, residents and visitors. We don’t know if we have ever attended a council meeting in which the chief or his top staff personnel have not been present. Very impressive.

Elijah Murphy, the co-skipper of the Historic Ute Inn, and a familiar voice of the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street, has played a key role in serving as a watchdog for city hall activities. He also has been lauded for his strong community involvement. And the Teller Sheriff’s Department was definitely in the running for this coveted title.

Best Local Personality

Gold – Donkeys

Silver – Mel Moser

Bronze – Lou Goldman

Sorry Mel. Mel Moser, the popular actor and manager of the Butte Theater, was officially unseated as the town’s personality king. Yes, it happens. The four-legged creatures, who often define Cripple Creek’s past, easily grabbed the gold. When tourists and gamblers enter Cripple Creek, their predominant question is: Where are the donkeys?  Still, Mel Moser gained many tallies, and yes, the legend of Lou Goldman continues, even if he is no longer an active member of the business community. 

Best Politician

Gold – Chris Hazlett  Cripple Creek City Council

Silver – Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell

Bronze – Noel Sawyer  Woodland Park City Council

In the ratings of best politician, it was pretty split. When the dust settled and the final punches were thrown, Chris Hazlett, the mayor pro tem of Cripple Creek, emerged as the top politician pick. Chris is known for his common sense leadership. But Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell captured many tallies and was touted for his transparency in dealing with the public and the media regarding the department’s many programs. And Noel Sawyer of the Woodland Park City Council also received many votes

Best Rumor Monger

Gold  – Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School Board

Silver – TMJ Staff

Bronze – Ralf’s Breakroom

The Cripple Creek/Victor School Board stole the show as the best rumor mongers in the area, no question about it. And not surprisingly, the TMJ staff secured a close second and Ralf’s Breakroom was heavily rated as a rumor-friendly eating and drinking establishment. In fact, if you come to Ralf’s, you better be prepared to tell at least three good rumors.

Best Troublemaker

Gold – Elijah Murphy

Silver – Tanner Coy

Bronze – CR Chambers/Jayson Baker

Elijah “Murf” Murphy, the personable, co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn, clearly won the gold as the area’s best troublemaker, just edging past Tanner Coy,  the treasurer of the Downtown Development Authority.  Murf is  a community figure that needs few introductions, as his role as the city watchdog is well-known; while Tanner appears quiet and reserved on the outside, but get him at a DDA meeting or council forum and look out. So much for perceptions.

Meanwhile, mini-golf pro and mountain climber CR Chambers just has a knack for getting into trouble with his videos. Jayson Baker, meanwhile, still gets under the skin of certain county leaders over their broadband enhancement studies.

Best Government Wish Project

Gold – Woodland Park Hwy. 24 Bypass

Silver – Cripple Creek’s push for a destination area

No question about this one. The infamous bypass project that leaders briefly considered in the early 1990s, but never really pursued continues to dominate the best wish government charts. This was one that previous leaders clearly dropped the ball on. If you don’t  believe us, then wait for the traffic tie-ups every summer in downtown Woodland.  If leaders could turn back the clock on this one, they probably would. Snagging second place is Cripple Creek’s continual push to become more of a destination area, an idea sought ever since the birth of limited stakes gaming.   

Best Controversy

Gold – The future of Woodland Station

Silver – New casinos/hotels coming to Cripple Creek

Silver – The Cripple Creek/Victor School District Rumors

The Teller high country wasn’t short on controversies in the last year. Leading the pack was the continual drama centering on the squabble surrounding the future of the Woodland Station area, once viewed as the future commercial anchor of downtown Woodland. Well, so much for that idea, as we believe an idea once presented by the late author and New York City mayoral candidate Norman Mailer is perfect for our little friendly kingdom: Have a sword fight downtown to determine the winner of this feud. It seems lawsuits, political shouting matches and such just aren’t doing the job. The news about all the mega casino/hotels coming also was highly touted in the controversy showdown. And of course, the constant rumors associated with the Cripple Creek/Victor School District received many tallies, with some readers contending that the district will be shutting down.

Best Dumbest Tourist Questions

The list is endless. Here are a few highlights:

Can we ski in Cripple Creek?

Are the donkeys really that old?

Where is the weed in Cripple Creek?

Where is the nightclub in Cripple Creek?

Can we pan for gold up here?