By Steve Beauregard – Central City, a charming old mining town located just 30 minutes from Denver, has six casinos. These range from small Mom and Pop dives with little more than slots, to totally remodeled upscale (for Colorado) hotel/casinos offering a variety of different machines, table games, poker, nice restaurants, and lounges with live entertainment.
If having just six casinos seems small, that’s because it is, and less than what most of us thought would be a booming gambling town.
Originally Central City was going to be the main hub for gambling in Colorado. When Colorado voters passed a ballot initiative in November of 1990 to allow small stakes gambling in three small mountain towns, Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek, it was assumed that the largest, most historic, most well-known town, Central City, would be the dominate leader in the state.
And it was – for awhile.
Founded during the booming Pike’s Peak gold boom in 1859, Central City was once home to 10,000 residents. In addition to its beautiful, popular opera house, charming main street, and decades of history, it was in the running to be the new state’s capital. Everything was in place for Central City to take its rightful place as the Las Vegas of Colorado.
The problem was, to get to Central City, you first had to drive through Black Hawk. The only road headed up to the area was the always crowded, two lane Colorado State Highway 119, which slowly snaked its way up the hill, and was often backed up, due to shuttle buses carrying day gamblers from Denver, or casino employees.
Once in the Black Hawk/Central City area, degenerate gamblers like me, who had just survived a boring 40 minute drive up Hwy 119, were anxious to get their gamble on. Thus, me and my fellow gamblers usually stopped at the first place we could. Back then, it was Colorado Central Station Casino (now the Lady Luck). Although Central City was just 2 miles up the hill, to an anxious gambler itching for the chance to play, that 2 miles may as well be 2 hours.
Black Hawk also didn’t have the building height restrictions in place that Central City had, meaning developers were free to take advantage of smaller pieces of land and build upward, making available more casino space, and hotel rooms, and hence, making an investment in Black Hawk more profitable.
All in all, many of the casinos in Black Hawk were built and designed from scratch, intended to resemble more to what you may be familiar with in Las Vegas. Central City casinos, on the other hand, just remodeled the tiny space in the old historic buildings.
Whereas town officials in Central City wanted to heed the intent of Colorado voters, by preserving the historic nature of the mining town, in Black Hawk, all bets were off (so to speak).
The contrast in building attitudes and historic preservation efforts eventually lead to some hard feelings between the two communities. Bad blood between Central City and Black Hawk has gotten to the point where the long-running free shuttle between towns no longer goes to Central City. More significantly, the multi-million dollar Central City Parkway was built.
This four lane highway off of Interstate 70 was Central City’s return shot, after having watched it’s smaller, less prestigious little brother down the road hog all the Colorado gambling glory. The expensive new road shaved a lot of time it took for drivers from Denver, to get to the Central City/Black Hawk area. It seems safer to boot, although the area is notorious for being a speed trap. (At times the 30 mile per hour speed limit for this 4 lane road feels like you’re crawling).
So while preservation buffs may decry to monstrous casinos arising in Black Hawk, and feel it goes against the voters’ wishes to keep alive the old time mining spirit and charm of these two neighboring gambling towns, the gambling market has spoken. Black Hawk has 17 casinos versus Central City’s 6 casinos, listed here below:
Easy Street Casino
Johnny Z’s Casino
Reserve Hotel and Casino
There were eight casinos, however on June 13, 2013, the general manager of Doc Holliday’s Casino announced that the casino would be closed immediately. On December 31st, 2013, Crystal Palace Casino had its last day of operation.
Like Doc Holliday’s, most of the casinos are on Central City’s Main Street. This street looks something right out of an old west movie. I love the look and feel of the street – especially around the holidays, when white snow is falling against the red brick, and the whole scene looks something from Norman Rockwell – if Mr. Rockwell liked to play video poker.
Of the six casinos in Central City, five of them are on Main Street, (one is just around the corner). The only non-Main Street area casino is The Reserve, but it too is just a short stroll from Main Street.
The Reserve (a sort of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino wannabe) and the Century Casino are the two “fancy,” more Las Vegas style casinos. The other six are more cozy (and friendly) casinos located in old historic buildings. Some
So if you’re looking for the big, busy casinos with fancy restaurants and a Las Vegas vibe, you should head down the street to Black Hawk. However if you’re looking for a friendlier, more cozy day at the slots, (and you mostly only play slots or video poker), give Central City a try.