Bronco Billy's
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The front of Bronco Billy's is seen in this 2013 file photo. Photo by ANDREW WINEKE, THE GAZETTE

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The three largest competitors of Bronco Billy's Casino and Hotel are opposing its plans to build a 200-room hotel that opponents say looks as if it belongs in Las Vegas rather than Cripple Creek.

Full House Resorts Inc., which acquired Bronco Billy's nearly two years ago, wants to spend up to $70 million to build a six-story hotel, conference center and 300-space parking garage on its land next to the casino.

The company is seeking a series of approvals from the Cripple Creek City Council at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to erect the hotel and parking garage, demolish two buildings, close a block of Second Street, exceed height restrictions and be exempted from historic preservation rules.

Owners of the Century, Wildwood and Triple Crown casinos (a holding company for the Brass Ass, McGills and Midnight Rose casinos), which all plan their own hotel projects, say they oppose the Bronco Billy's project because the hotel's glass-and-steel exterior wouldn't fit with the brick exteriors of the city's 12 casinos, many of which are historic buildings.

The Cripple Creek Historic Preservation Commission last month unanimously recommended approval of the project with 12 conditions suggested by the city's Planning and Community Development Department.

"The historic character of Cripple Creek is in jeopardy," said Eric Rose, general manager of Century Casino and Hotel. "We either go with a Las Vegas/Black Hawk style or stay with what Cripple Creek has been. We all plan to build more hotel rooms in the future, but not this way. The all-glass front of the hotel is not historic at all."

Rose said the project can be built with a design that could better match other Cripple Creek buildings, and without closing Second Street or demolishing two "historic" buildings.

Triple Crown CEO Larry Hill said giving Bronco Billy's a "certificate of special merit" would largely exempt it from preservation rules "everyone else has had to follow."

"They are proposing to build a Las Vegas- or Black Hawk-style casino in Cripple Creek. To have mirrored glass, steel and concrete is not what anyone wants in Cripple Creek," Hill said.

Triple Crown supports expanding lodging in town, he said, but it "wants everybody to play by the same rules we have had to abide by for the past 25 years."

Hill compared the Bronco Billy's project with the 33-story, 530-room Ameristar Casino Resort Spa in Black Hawk, which he said doesn't conform to historic preservation requirements meant to maintain the character of the three former mining towns, where voter-approved casino-style gaming began in 1991.

Full House CEO Dan Lee said he wants the Bronco Billy's project to draw upscale customers in the same way Ameristar has expanded the market in the Central City-Black Hawk gaming district.

Lee said Full House plans to build the hotel to a quality level that would earn it a four-diamond ranking from AAA or a four-star ranking from Forbes magazine and would command room rates of $200 a night.

The Las Vegas-based company also plans a top-rated restaurant and 600-seat events center as part of the project, which Lee said would draw wealthy customers.

Construction is planned in two phases, with work starting on the parking garage this summer and the hotel in the first half of next year. Opening is planned in 2020.

Joe Canfora, managing partner of the Wildwood Casino, said he worries that Full House can't draw a lot of new customers and will end up triggering deep price-cutting among all the local casinos, especially during traditionally slow winter weekdays.

"Cripple Creek is one of the toughest markets I have ever been in, and I have had casinos in Mississippi, Las Vegas, Colorado and Washington state," Canfora said. "If they are wrong about the rates they can get, everyone will be biting on each other's business, and everyone will get weaker."

Lee said Cripple Creek's historic preservation rules call for new buildings to complement historic structures, not match them. Other hotel projects, including Century's renovation and expansion of the Palace Hotel that is now on hold, also include significant all-glass elements, he said.

"If you build a new building that mimics an old building, Cripple Creek will start to look like Mainstreet USA in Disneyland," Lee said. "The success of our project depends on Cripple Creek retaining its historic nature, not becoming another Las Vegas."

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Business Writer

Business Writer