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Cripple Creek casinos gain approval for around-the-clock alcohol sales

July 16, 2015 Updated: July 16, 2015 at 4:11 am
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photo - Cripple Creek has shunned new building designs and has instead kept its original historic mining town look. The early 1900s atmosphere outside is part of what attracts some gamblers, visitors said.

NED HUNTER, THE GAZETTE
Cripple Creek has shunned new building designs and has instead kept its original historic mining town look. The early 1900s atmosphere outside is part of what attracts some gamblers, visitors said. NED HUNTER, THE GAZETTE 

CRIPPLE CREEK - Lucky streaks might end in Cripple Creek, but liquor sales can keep going.

Seven of the city's nine casinos won approval Wednesday night to serve alcohol 24 hours a day, making Cripple Creek the latest Colorado city to embrace around-the-clock liquor sales in gambling halls.

"Anything we can do for our community and our economy, we got to try it," Mayor Bruce Brown said.

The city now boasts more businesses serving 24/7 than anywhere else in the state, but it isn't the first. Two casinos in Black Hawk won approval for the move in late June and started around-the-clock service this month.

It's all part of an emerging trend of businesses using a regulatory end-around to serve alcohol past 2 a.m., which is when state law bars liquor sales. A strip club in Glendale pioneered the process and serves alcohol until 4 a.m.

In Cripple Creek, some gambling halls expected one last night declaring "last call."

The Brass Ass Casino, Midnight Rose and McGills Hotel and Casino - the three businesses comprising Triple Crown Casinos - and the Century Casino plan to begin selling around the clock at 2 a.m. Friday, said Robert Runco, a lawyer representing the Cripple Creek Casino Association.

Bronco Billy's, the Double Eagle Hotel & Casino and the Wildwood Casino have to wait until paperwork is cleared through Colorado Division of Revenue. They might get the green light to serve 24/7 in about a week, Runco said.

Cripple Creek casinos are open 24 hours a day, but the association pushed the measure in light of slumping business after 2 a.m. The association also wanted to give people who work late shifts another means of entertainment, Runco said.

"Our industry has been in a decline for many years, and the comparison for gaming is Las Vegas and Atlantic City - and they're both 24-hour liquor," said Kevin Werner, vice president and general manager of the Wildwood Casino.

Casino operators have framed the move as part of a renaissance for the city, which has faced competition from Black Hawk and endured consecutive slow summer seasons because of the routine threat of wildfire or flash floods, which closed U.S. 24 through Ute Pass.

They also said the change can help keep a flood of drunk drivers from hitting the streets at 2 a.m. because visitors won't feel a deadline to finish their drinks and leave.

Not all casinos requested the change. The two businesses not affiliated with the association - Johnny Nolon's Casino and the Colorado Grande Casino & Hotel - were not part of Wednesday's votes. The change passed without anyone voicing opinions for or against the ordinance during City Council's meeting Wednesday night. One council member, Chris Hazlett, was absent.

Opinions of gamblers in Cripple Creek on Wednesday varied.

Playing the Triple Golden Cherries slot machine at Bronco Billy's, Jana Boyer doubted whether the change would spur her to visit the city more often - the scenic drive along Colo. 67 is the main reason she visits.

But she said she was fine with the change because it would accommodate people working unusual hours.

"That's the way a lot of industries have been going," Boyer said.

Sitting at a slot machine in The Brass Ass Casino, Gene Gates called the move a "recipe for disaster."

"Why does someone need 24 hours to drink?" asked Gates, who lives in Arvada and normally visits Black Hawk casinos. "I just think it adds to some of our problems."

A 2011 law opened the door to around-the-clock alcohol sales by allowing municipalities to create entertainment districts that can include "common consumption areas" where cities can essentially alter some state liquor laws. But those areas are rare and heavily regulated.

For example, one area in Greeley allows people to carry alcohol out of downtown bars and onto city streets, but only during certain music festivals. In that instance, participants must carry specially labeled cups that bear each bar's name in a certain font.

In Cripple Creek, the common consumption areas only encompass the casino buildings. Casino operators have voiced a desire to allow customers take alcohol outdoors, Brown said, but the privilege wasn't included in Wednesday's votes.

"That would be a little more challenging," Brown said.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @JakobRodgers

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