Casinos betting changes will boost bottom lines

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Cripple Creek’s casinos are betting on a much-needed economic boost from new games, higher betting limits and extended operating hours.

Measured by adjusted gross proceeds, Cripple Creek casino revenue reached the high water mark of $154.9 million during 2007, following years of steady growth.

But during 2008, yearly revenue plummeted nearly 10 percent to $140.1 million, erasing seven years of gains. Hit hard by the recession and by statewide ordinances forbidding smoking in casinos, the industry has struggled.

During November, voters approved a ballot initiative to allow casinos to offer craps and roulette, increase betting limits from $5 to $100 and remain open throughout the night.

Anticipating that local high-rollers, as well as craps and roulette players, might forsake the occasional trip to Las Vegas if Vegas-style action was right up the road, every sizeable casino in Cripple Creek invested heavily in preparing for the July 1 rollout of new games, new limits and new closing hours.

And it appears that the launch was successful.

“It was like New Year’s Eve,” said Bronco Billy’s co-owner Mike Chaput. “As soon as midnight hit there were big crowds at all the tables and everyone was cheering and applauding.”

By the next afternoon, the excitement hadn’t entirely abated.

Martha, who was reluctant to give her last name, was playing the 25-cent video poker terminals.

“I’ve been here all night,” she said, “I played some craps, and some roulette, and slots, and now I’m back to my favorite Deuces Wild machine. I like staying up all night and gambling — it’s what we do in Vegas. I won a royal last night for $1,600, so I’m up. My husband’s coming up in a few hours, so I’m going to go get some sleep, and I guess we’ll be up all night tonight, too.”

With the exception of the newly constructed Wildwood Casino, most of Cripple Creek’s gaming establishments are in restored 19th century commercial buildings along Bennett Avenue. Structural, architectural and legal constraints all affect their ability to expand, so casino owners have had to find creative ways to fit in the new table games.

At Bronco Billy’s, roulette wheels and card tables are now given pride of place in a central position on the main casino floor, replacing several banks of slots, which have been relocated.

“Particularly at the beginning,” co-owner Marc Murphy said, “we think it’s good to have some visibility from the street, so people are encouraged to walk in and try something new.”

Murphy was pleased by the initial roll-out.

“We spent nine weeks training people to run roulette and craps, and we’re really happy with the results,” he said. “The woman running the table right here had absolutely no experience nine weeks ago, and she’s running the table perfectly.”

Cripple Creek Mayor Dan Baader was euphoric.

“It was off the charts,” he said, “We started with Donkey Derby days, and we rolled right into July 2 and the new games, and then it’s the 4th of July weekend. Every room was booked, every casino was packed. There were no incidents. Water and sewer usage was up 30 percent, which we expected — and everything went fine.”

He said that at 4 a.m. the tables were full.

“Especially craps,” Baader said. “It looks as if craps will outdo roulette. But don’t ask me — I’ll have fun with $20 in the video poker machines, but put me at one of those tables, and I wouldn’t know what to do!”

According to Martha, it’s all good.

“I just got off the phone with my husband,” she said. “And he said ‘Well, this is so wonderful because when it’s 2 a.m. and I’m winning, they can’t come and shut me down!’”

And it didn’t appear that any of the neophyte dealers were victimized by professional scammers, who might have thought they were easy marks.

“There aren’t any rookie GM’s in the casinos,” Baader said. “They all came from Vegas or Reno, and they’re pretty much aware of all the tricks. Besides, we have a $100 limit — scammers generally go for the no-limit games, where they can make some real money.”

Murphy says that he, in common with other casino owners, believes that the new games will help attract a new generation of players to Cripple Creek.

“We tend to concentrate our advertising on our established customers, and we know we need to get younger,” he said. “This weekend we saw a lot of new faces, and that’s good.”

Baader agreed.

“It was a much younger crowd than we’re used to seeing,” he said. “All in all, it was a perfect weekend. Let’s just hope it keeps up.”