The lure of luck, fun and fortune has always played a key role in Black Hawk and Central City’s anything-can-happen culture. The adjacent historic gold mining and gambling towns are located less than an hour’s drive from Denver and have become a favorite playground.
“We’ve gone from using a pick and shovel to prospect for gold to work- ing with inscrutable dice and fickle cards, always looking for the big hit on a little game of chance,” said Central City Mayor Jeremy Fey.
The small towns’ ever-changing economic fortunes could be changing again. With approval by state voters of Amendment 77 last year and subsequent thumbs-up by both city councils, Las Vegas-style gaming rules are coming to the area’s 21 casinos May 1.
The $100-bet limit, the smallest in the country, is gone and players will now have access to unlimited single-bet wagers and new casino games, including Baccarat (a fast two-card game favored by James Bond), two-ball roulette and Keno.
A CASINO’S MOST WELCOME MAMMAL: WHALES
“Our community is really excited about the May 1 casino changes. Removing betting limits will offer visitors a better gaming experience and hopefully attract high-stakes players—‘whales’ in Vegas lingo— and we welcome them,” said David Spellman, a fifth-generation Black Hawk resident who’s been mayor for 14 years after serving 20 years on city council.
“We believe the new rules will generate new revenues, increase employment, make us competitive with other markets and solidify our community as a resort destination in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West,” Spellman said.
The new rules could not have come soon enough in what has been a disruptive and devastating time for the gambling towns. Due to the pandemic, casinos were forced to close for 90 days last year. Gaming fuels the local economy, and the economic hit was $10 million in city revenues. Black Hawk, with its 15 casinos, tallies about 85 percent of the state’s gaming revenues. The town attracts 20,000 daily gaming visitors and ranks 15th in gaming destinations by the American Gaming Association.
A NEW DESTINATION PLAYER IN TOWN: THE MONARCH
A large “Monarch” sign greets visitors at the southern entrance of the old mining town’s Main Street. The Riviera Casino, the site’s former occupant, had one buffet and no hotel rooms. Monarch purchased the Riviera in 2012 and the result is a $442 million, long-awaited second destination resort for Black Hawk.
The Monarch Casino Resort Spa, a 23-story tower, has 516 guest rooms and suites, banquet and meeting rooms, a retail store, concierge lounges, fitness room, rooftop spa and a pool with cabanas.
The casino has 60,000 square feet of gaming space, 1,250 slot machines, 40 table games, a dedicated high-stakes room, a sports lounge and poker room. Guests have plenty of dining choices, including Black Hawk’s only 24-hour full-service restaurant, a 250-seat buffet, and the Monarch Chophouse. Additional restaurants are planned.
There’s plenty of free self-parking in the attached nine-story parking structure that includes Tesla and EV charging stations. Complimentary valet parking is also available.
The Monarch’s butterfly theme is prevalent throughout the hotel. It’s in the carpets, on artwork, and butterflies are even embossed on guest room walls. The hotel is working with Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion to design monarch butterfly outdoor habitat gardens at the resort.
The ambiance and beauty of the new Monarch will remind some guests of their favorite Vegas properties. “Guests are already commenting that our property is on par and often better than the resorts they visit in Las Vegas,” said David Farahi, chief operating officer.
In terms of marketing, Farahi is realistic. He knows Colorado is one of the top five feeders to Vegas. “We won’t be able to stop Coloradans from visiting Las Vegas, but if they go four or five times a year and come to a Colorado gaming town for one of those visits, the impact for the state and industry will be meaningful.”
AMERISTAR – STABLE AND STEADY EXCITEMENT
Two long blocks up the street is Black Hawk’s first destination hotel, the 33-story Ameristar Casino Resort and Spa. It opened 20 years ago as the Black Hawk Casino by Hyatt at a time when Colorado bet limits were (hard-to-believe) $5. It became Ameristar in 2006 with 536 guest rooms and suites. A AAA Four Diamond property, its two-story casino has massive floor-to-ceiling stone fireplaces and timber beams creating a rustic Colorado elegance. Last year, Ameristar’s signature restaurant, Timberline Grill, was recognized by Wine Spectator magazine for its innovative wine list.
In November, Ameristar opened Barstool Sportsbook on the second floor of the casino. Sports fans can cheer on their favorite teams assisted by a 24-foot-wide video wall, 29 HDTVs and 13 betting kiosks. “We will continue to invest in our property to ensure our guests have a great experience at our resort,” said Sean Demeule, general manager.
MORE THAN GAMBLING
Both mayors are aware that all guests don’t come to gamble, and the towns are working to broaden attractions, including outdoor recreation, entertainment and historic sites. Black Hawk has worked for years to annex nearby Maryland Mountain’s 600 acres, with a goal of creating a recreational park with multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking. Its soon-to-open realignment of the pedestrian-friendly Gregory Street retail plaza will celebrate the area’s 162-year history. The biggest coup was the announcement last year that Proximo Spirits, parent company to Stranahan’s and Tincup Whiskey, plan to build what will be Colorado’s largest distillery. The $50 million, 20-acre facility will include a hotel, restaurants, retail, event space, campground, amphitheater and axe-throwing course.
The non-gaming Lake Gulch Whiskey Resort will employ almost 100 full- and part-time employees and is expected to attract 60,000 annual visitors. The exterior will be designed to reflect the town’s historic buildings.
In Central City, momentum has increased for restoration and redevelopment projects of historic core city buildings, Fey said. “We’ve already seen two sales and have one pending. We will be expanding casinos.”
The city is restoring the 1875 Belvidere Theatre with a goal of “adding an important multipurpose event center to the community and to the continued vibrancy of the historic district,” the mayor said.
Central City has a four-story building height limit and the mayor is not inclined to change it. “We represent the traditional aspect of old-time gaming, the boutique form where players can still slide real coins into the one-armed bandits,” he said. “That still has appeal to some our players.”
Charlie Brown is a former Colorado state representative and served more than 14 years on Denver City Council. He’s been spotted looking for loose slots and luck in Black Hawk, Central City and Wynn Las Vegas. Far from a whale, he considers himself a Salmo trutta, brown trout.
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