With a shower of confetti, champagne toasts and tumbling dice, a new era of gambling began at 12:01 this morning in Cripple Creek.
At Bronco Billy's Casino, Ray Williams couldn't wait - he placed a lone chip on the craps table an hour ahead of time to save his place.
"We usually gamble in Las Vegas and down south," said Williams, of Colorado Springs. "It's kind of nice they have the tables up here now."
Colorado casinos are counting on those tables - with craps and roulette joining blackjack and poker - along with higher, $100 limits and 24-hour gambling to boost their fortunes. Once considered recession-proof, the gaming industry has been hit hard by the economic slowdown in the last year. It was hard to tell whether the players or the casino staff were more excited by the changes.
"The last four weeks (of preparations) has been intense," said Marc Murphy, co-general manager of Bronco Billy's. "I'm nervous, excited and exhausted."
Colorado voters made the changes possible by approving Amendment 50 last fall (with most of the new tax revenue going to the state's community college system). But the casinos had to wait until just past midnight July 2 before jumping in. David Minter, general manager of Johnny Nolon's Casino and a veteran of the Colorado gaming scene since just after gambling was introduced in 1991, said the wait has really been longer than that.
"Long time coming for some of us," he said. "We've probably talked about this for at least the last 10 years."
Cripple Creek wasn't overflowing at midnight, but the casinos were busy and far more crowded than they typically would be. It was a whole new day, even at midnight.
"We opened this morning and we won't close again," said Kevin Werner, general manager of the Wildwood Casino.
Many gamblers came just to take part in the event.
"I'm going to be sitting at a table and I'm going to be one of the first to play roulette in Colorado," said Steve Schallert of Florissant. "We go out to Vegas once a year to play roulette, and now we can go around the corner."
Jake Christensen, a craps dealer at the Wildwood, was bouncing at his table waiting for the stroke of midnight.
"I'm so pumped for this," he said. "I hope it's packed in here. If it's packed, it's going to be a lot of fun."
A few minutes later, the table was indeed packed with a cheering throng of bettors.
One night, of course, is not going to make or break the new gaming regime. Casinos are counting on the changes to make Cripple Creek more of a destination, like a miniature Las Vegas.
Bob Sturges, CEO of the Houston, Texas-based Nevada Gold company, which owns the Colorado Grande Casino, made the trip to check out the Grande's new table games addition. He stood outside on Bennett Avenue just before midnight, admiring the lights of the casinos.
"We really feel it's going to take some time to ramp up for us, but we'll be patient," he said. "It should draw from a wider audience and get different people up here."
Amid all the hubbub elsewhere, one casino quietly locked its doors at midnight. The Imperial Casino Hotel had yet to install an upgraded security system required by the Colorado Division of Gaming, Cripple Creek officials said. The casino was supposed to reopen later in the week.