Chamonix Casino Hotel Opens First Stage of $300 Million Development

Huge Crowd Attends Long-awaited Billy’s Expansion

Rick Langenberg

“Baby Bellagio” has been born in Cripple Creek.

That’s the vision of Full House Resorts Chief Executive Officer Dan Lee, as he compares the Chamonix Casino and Hotel in Cripple Creek, which opened last week, to the grandiose details associated with the five-star Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. This is one of more than a dozen successful gaming projects that Lee, a big player in the Vegas casino development field, has been involved with.

But the Chamonix venture in Cripple Creek may just rank as the most challenging Lee has ever encountered due to the town’s tough building climate.

For five-plus years, Lee has strived to develop a casino hotel in Cripple Creek that remains unmatched in European elegance and style, while trying to preserve the historic character of the town’s past.  This journey hit some tough waters, including the COVID-19 pandemic that halted all casino activity across the nation and put the brakes on the Chamonix project. For a several month period, the project appeared dead.

However, a big rebound occurred when Colorado voters cleared the way for ending all limits on single-bet wagers, which allowed Cripple Creek to attract more high roller players and investment dollars. The Chamonix returned in a major way with a push for even more rooms and amenities, and a consolidated construction push for building a parking garage, casino and hotel at the same time.

But the process of doing a project of this magnitude had to overcome the complex hurdles of completing intricate construction work, unseen in the gaming community for three decades, at an altitude of 9,500-plus feet. Couple this high- altitude factor with an overall labor shortage, and you get “The Perfect Storm” for construction challenges. For 16 months, crews of more than 300 people, assembled from the Denver-based Hensel Phelps company, worked daily and tediously on the project. The last few months, construction crews, along with Bronco Billy’s department leaders, worked around the clock with two regular shifts throughout the day and evening.
And even as the deadline clock ticked to the final hours, the Chamonix, named after the “Queen of Alpine” resorts in France (the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924), got hit hard in the 11th hour with real-life Cripple Creek winter woes. The casino experienced a bad case of frozen pipes, leading to gushing 1,000-plus gallons of water flooding one section of the building.

This happened during the evening prior to their official opening. “We were so lucky no one was staying in the hotel that night. We cleaned it up pretty fast,” commented a relieved Lee, who even had traces of an injured eye from the final tumultuous stages of the Chamonix opening.

The bursting pipes was just one final detail that had to be addressed at the last-minute stage. In fact, minutes before the scheduled opening, the casino hotel developer still had to await approval from three separate agencies.

But alas, Lady luck was on the side of the Chamonix, which officially opened the first stage of its project on Dec. 27, shortly after noontime. Construction war wounds and all, Dan Lee didn’t lose any of his enthusiasm for the Chamonix venture, which he described as the “Baby Bellagio.”

As a result, the project proponents have opened the door to stage one for the biggest development ever done in Cripple Creek, encompassing more than 500,000 square-feet and nine floors.  “It is big,” stated Cripple Creek building official Ken Hartsfield, who admits the town has never experienced a project of this magnitude. He said a lot more work has to occur on unfinished areas, such as the spa, the new steakhouse and the rooftop pool and in some room areas.

But to date, he admits the Chamonix team has cleared their initial, first hurdle of meeting city building standards.

The Chamonix opened on Dec. 27, as huge crowds attended the official ribbon cutting, and the resort-like facility welcomed guests for the first time.  Initially, the casino section, featuring 221 slots and 10 table games opened, along with approximately 130 rooms. The remainder of the rooms, which number about 300, should be open within the next week, noted Lee. “We had to make a decision to open in stages,” said the Full House CEO.  He cited a lack of skilled craftsmen to handle the final details, as the main stumbling point.

Guests also got a chance to enjoy the temporary restaurant, the Chamonix Bistro, and a spacious banquet room, capped by special chandeliers, and accompanying meeting rooms.

The reaction was complete awe with a number of special features, such as huge four-foot-tall fireplaces and gold-threaded art displays, estimated at costing $250,000, per exhibit.  A visitor could spend hours just examining the classy artwork. The lobby features a huge, spacious area not matched in any local casino, equipped with a casino bar, cafe for pastries and coffee items, comfortable lounge chairs and more.

The rooms also feature perks, such as pool tables and mega bathtubs, never imagined in Cripple Creek. It really is a combination of doing a lot of the little things that people really like,” said Wendy Field, the marketing director for Bronco Billy’s. She said the project represents a desire by the company’s CEO to showcase European-style elegance and special resort-like amenities, while retaining the Colorado gaming feel.  With the opening of the Chamonix, she says improvements will occur at Bronco Billy’s. “We want to upgrade it a little, but we don’t want it to lose any of its charm.”

“Every day it just gets prettier and prettier,” said Baxter Lee, the general manager of Bronco Billy’s (no relation to Dan Lee), when discussing the Chamonix. “It is very exciting.”

In a prepared statement he noted, “Chamonix is a special place, unlike any other casino hotel in the state. It offers a high-end Las Vegas experience in our beautiful mountain town.”