Officials cut ribbon, praise Dodge City casino

DODGE CITY — Praising Dodge City for its perseverance and fighting spirit, Gov. Mark Parkinson officially opened the Boot Hill Casino and Resort this morning.

About 200 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the casino and listened to Parkinson and state politicians and gaming officials laud the casino as a boon to western Kansas.

Parkinson said he remembered early talk in the Legislature about a casino and how it mostly came from Las Vegas developers who brought their New York City attorneys.

"All they wanted to do was build a casino in Kansas City," he said. "I think it's a great Kansas story that the very first casino in this state isn't a high-priced casino in Kansas City."

The crowd applauded.

Parkinson then cut the ribbon to officially open the casino, though it informally opened Tuesday.

Consultants hired by the state have projected that the first state-owned casino will earn between $47 million and $60 million in gambling revenue in 2012 and 2013.

Kansas is slated to receive 22 percent of that.

Tuesday, Jeff Thorpe, president of Boot Hill Gaming Inc., remembered how his group had worked to get a casino for Dodge City since 1999.

They began talking about it in the Long Branch Saloon, thinking about maybe having a few poker tables and a few slot machines, he said.

They wound up with a $90 million Las Vegas-style casino in a town that hadn't experienced legal casino gambling for more than a century.

"Mission accomplished," Thorpe said. "This project will re-ignite the rush of the Old West. They'll feel it when they walk in the front door."

Maybe even before they walk in. A portion of the casino's brick facade resembles storefronts in old Dodge. The silhouette of a cowboy, six-shooter drawn and smoking, looms over the entrance.

The Western theme continues inside with a montage of cowboy photos over the entryway, wagon-wheel chandeliers, cowboy cutouts lining the walls, and security guards dressed in Western jeans, white shirts and sheriff's badges.

The casino, in its $48 million first phase, opened with the musical jingling of 584 slot machines with names like "Crown of Egypt," "Wild Safari" and "Jaws."

Classic rock played over the sound system. Flickering images from more than 30 flat-screen TVs mounted around the interior added to the entertainment.

People dined in the Firesides at Boot Hill restaurant, ate in a snack bar, filtered into a saloon and prowled a gift shop.

A second phase, scheduled to be completed in February 2012, will add a 124-room hotel, indoor pool, salon and spa facility, conference and entertainment facility, and more gambling and dining space.

The casino opened with 265 employees, mostly from Dodge City and Garden City, said Mike Tamburelli, the general manager.