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Gambling Casinos Open Doors in Colorado

October 1, 1991

CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo. (AP) _ With a pull on an old slot machine and the firing of Wild Bill Hickok pistols, gambling became legal in three historic Colorado mining towns today for the first time in nearly half a century.

″I’ve lived here a good many years - 54 to be exact,″ said Cripple Creek Mayor Henry Hack. ″I’ve watched it go downhill, downhill and I got a little disturbed by it. But, by God, Cripple Creek has come back.″

More than a thousand people waited in crisp fall weather for the 8 a.m. opening of casinos in Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek.

Voters last November approved a constitutional amendment making gambling legal in the three communities. Central City and Black Hawk lie about 25 miles west of Denver, and Cripple Creek is 120 miles southwest of Denver.

Gambling will be limited to slot machines, blackjack and poker, and bets will have a $5 ceiling.

Once formal ceremonies were done, the gamblers cheered and then packed into at least a dozen casinos, plunking nickels, quarters and dollars in slot machines and trying their skill at blackjack.

Leaders of the three towns regard gambling as a solution to their economic problems. The towns all sprung up as a result of gold rushes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but have seen their populations and economies dwindle since then.

For years, the small towns - Central City, with 329 residents; Cripple Creek, with 655, and Black Hawk with 232, according to the 1990 Census - did a brisk trade in the summer and all but closed up shop when winter came.

On Central City’s Main Street, state Sen. Sally Hopper put a quarter into a 1949 slot machine and pulled the lever to signal the start of gaming. She came up empty-handed.

The machine was removed from a casino in Central City when gambling became illegal in the state at the end of the 1940s.

″This is so exciting,″ Hopper said. ″I can’t believe this day is finally here. We said the buildings would be restored and they have been. We said the economy will improve and I’m sure it will.″

In Cripple Creek, officials fired replicas of Wild Bill Hickok’s pistols down Bennett Avenue to signal the start of gaming.

″It’s really ironic,″ said Ray Drake, a Cripple Creek historian and municipal judge. ″One hundred years after gold was discovered, we have our second gold rush.″

Rosemary Hennings, who owns the Rock & Lite gift shop on Central City’s Main Street, is happy to see the gaming parlors open.

″When you do business just four months of the year, you’ve got to live the other eight months, too,″ she said. ″This is the beginning of a big adventure for Central City and a real boost.″

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