By John Hazlehurst

A new Christmas-themed casino just opened in the former Imperial Hotel in Cripple Creek, one of three Colorado mountain towns where state law permits casino gambling. Energetically promoted for several weeks prior to opening, the Christmas Casino & Inn attracted a sizable crowd of curious gamblers eager to test the 150 new slots in the reimagined space. The Christmas Casino, a subsidiary of Bronco Billy’s, is the first iteration of an ambitious $70 million expansi

on, which may be a game-changer for Cripple Creek and Colorado gambling.

The players may have been there  in the hope that casino owners deliberately make their machines “looser” when first introduced, thereby luring regulars from other establishments.

That was not the intent of Dan Lee, the CEO of Bronco Billy’s owner Full House Resorts. Noting that Cripple Creek doesn’t need more gambling devices but more people, Lee emphasized that that the Christmas Casino is the first step in a grand plan to completely transform the mountain gambling town.

For many years, Cripple Creek casino visitor numbers and revenues have scarcely budged. When Full House acquired Bronco Billy’s two years ago, they planned to reinvent the casino as a destination resort, not just a place for day-tripping gamblers. That reinvention will culminate in “a planned future expansion of Bronco Billy’s, including a four-star hotel with 150-guest rooms, spa, parking garage, convention and entertainment space, and high-end restaurant.”

Meanwhile, the Christmas Casino is lots of fun. It includes a dozen hotel rooms, and over-the-top Christmas décor that looks as if it cost millions – and did! Other than the ubiquitous slots, the Christmas Casino has little in common with other destinations in Cripple Creek. Here’s a list, taken from a Bronco Billy’s P.R. release.

17-foot Christmas Pyramid custom-designed and built by Erzgebirge Palace in Germany. It’s only the second of its kind in the U.S. Christmas Pyramids in Germany are said to date to the 16

th century, with many believing these wooden masterpieces inspired the Christmas tree. The authentic, rotating Christmas Pyramid features five tiers of traditional scenes.

Live reindeer. A herd of eight reindeer is on display, nestled in the farm enclosure behind the Christmas Casino & Inn through the beginning of the New Year.

Rudy’s Diner. This restaurant is open seven days a week, offering savory fare and sweet treats.

The Ornament Bar and mezzanine-level Reindeer Bar serve seasonal cocktails and other beverages including eggnog.

Immersive holiday experience and design led by world-renowned mechanical display artist Lou Nasti. Nasti’s work can be found around the world from Macy’s and Park Avenue Plaza in New York City to the castle for the King of Morocco. Throughout the Christmas Casino & Inn, guests will find enough garland to stretch across three and a half football fields (360 yards), a cuckoo clock wall with 30 clocks from around the world, state-of-the-art Twilight fiber optic LED ceilings with “shooting stars” that appear every two minutes, and 9-foot nutcrackers, among other holiday de

signs and music.

So if any of that sounds like fun (and it all is), head on up to Cripple Creek. There are ten reindeer, all female, and all carrying huge antlers. They seem perfectly content in their enclosed outdoor space – but don’t try to feed them. They’ll eat anything, and they’re easily sickened. And the weather doesn’t bother them-they’re Minnesota natives.