Cripple Creek and Teller County Betting on Banner Summer with COVID Mandates Removed

Summer is near in Cripple Creek. Photo by Cindy Valade

Early Indications Show Signs of Bonanza Year

Rick Langenberg


We are back,  and are hedging our bets on a banner year.


That is the message being delivered by city and elected officials, casino operators and business leaders, as the local gaming community shakes off the dust from the coronavirus epidemic, and gears up for their first semi-normal summer since 2019.


This trend for a prosperous year is getting propelled by the actual signs of new expansions, more tourist crowds, no-limit betting action and a push for development incentives.


“I think it is going to be a pretty good year,” said Interim City Administrator Ray White, who has held the city’s management reins on several occasions. “We are seeing a lot of out-of-state vehicles. Visitors are coming back.  A lot of people are ready to get out.”


In essence, White cites a return to semi-normality in Cripple Creek and southern Teller. He admits that COVID fatigue has helped bring more crowds to the gaming community.


“It is crazy,” said Marketing and Special Events Director Jeff Mosher, in describing the renewed interest in Cripple Creek and the early summer activity.  All of the town’s attractions are recording good numbers. Experts are predicting a great year for tourism in the entire Pikes Peak region.


Casino operators are also quite optimistic, as no-limits gambling now comes into play; and for a change, they can operate at full capacity levels and with  no mandates. The casino did open last June around this time, but they were forced to abide by strict guidelines. Plus, they  couldn’t have table games and had to physically okay every customer entering their establishment.


Similar bullish views are echoed too on the non-gaming front. “I think this is going to be one of our best years,” said Edie Smith, owner of Creations Everlasting, one of the town’s more unique non-gaming shops.  “I am excited. We are already seeing a lot of tourists.  People want to get out.”


Expansion Fever

The town also is buzzing with the sights of new projects.


The Wildwood casino is scheduled to open its new 101-room hotel this week, and hold an official grand opening next month. Their project has commanded main stage attention during the last several city council meetings, with project proponents clearing the final  hurdles. The 48,000-square-foot project  will offer a variety of rooms, including standard kings and queens, special suites, standard (two-double-bed rooms and ADA (American Disability Act) compliant facilities.  The new hotel also features a spacious lobby area and sports several meeting hubs.

It caters more to adult gamblers, while the Wildwood’s Gold King Mountain Inn  serves more families.

The new hotel culminates a project that actually broke ground in 2019.  At the time, It was described as the town’s opening act in a push to become more of a destination area.


Meanwhile, in the downtown area, work is proceeding non-stop on the new Bronco Billy’s $180 million- expansion, calling for a four-star 300-room hotel, restaurants, a spa, rooftop pool, convention and meeting space and a parking garage.


The project, which involves the vacation of Second street, is slated for completion in 2022.  This development, called the Chamonix resort, became the first project of special merit approved by the city council in recent years.


“They are right on track,” said White, in describing the current state of the Billy’s expansion project, which is pursing opening all phases around the same time.  The former parking lot of Bronco Billy’s had to be relocated temporarily to the east part of town, with a customer shuttle service established.


When the final project is completed, Billy’s will nearly double its  gaming floor.


A few other proposed casinos expansions, such as Triple Crown and Century, could follow this trend.


The expansion  spurt has also fueled a project that locals and non-gamers will love:  the reopening of The Creek restaurant on Bennett Avenue. This was a former eatery, featuring amazing renovation work, that was a very popular restaurant during its previous stint.  Its current owners, John and Micky Freeman, who are no newcomers to the local business arena, have some ambitious plans and are featuring a diverse menu.


A Strong Push for Housing

In addition, Cripple Creek is betting big on pursuing more workforce housing projects. This week the city will finalize a variety  of key development incentives, such as tap fee waivers and fee reductions and help with materials, with a proposed ordinance. This will give developers a several year window for doing more multi-family projects. “What we really need is apartments,” said Mosher.  He says he is contacted frequently by developers interested in doing housing ventures in Cripple Creek.


Mosher believes now the time is ideal for these projects, with the current demand.


The incentive package is the first official step town leaders have taken to move the needle more in the push for housing, considered a crisis scenario in the gaming community. The town recently partook in a detailed study in 2019, but didn’t take any specified action.


The only downer for the summer of 2021 is that the town won’t bustle with its normal explosion of weekend festivals.   With the coronavirus raging away at the end of 2020, the city agreed to not fund any special events or festivals for this  year.


But that said, it is leaving the door wide open as a host for events and trying to help nonprofits with other resources. The town will still feature a festive July 4th celebration, Donkey Derby Days and some new unique events (see related story)


Across Teller County, the area will boom with traditional special events and festivities, including the Green Box Arts Festival, July 4th, the Salute to American Veterans Rally, Bronc Day, the Mountain Arts Festival and more.


On a financial front, the city is still struggling and is hoping the no-bet limits trend will add more betting devices and additional revenue.  With the casinos shutting down last year for three months, the city lost an estimated $2.3 million in revenue.


White said  officials have   informed that the city will receive several hundred thousand dollars through the American Recovery Act.  But officials will hit the lobbying trail big time to regain more of the money it lost from the COVID epidemic, which virtually turned southern Teller into a ghost region.


But for right now, city officials are glad life is returning to normal in the gaming community.