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.
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 four are more cozy (and friendly) casinos located in old historic buildings.
Central City’s six casinos are listed here below:
102 Main Street
Central City, CO 80427
Phone: (303) 582-5050
The Century Casino opened in 2016. It has a 26 room boutique hotel, and offers slots, video poker machines, a few table games, including craps, blackjack and roulette, and a small poker room. A walkway takes you from their covered parking garage into the casino.
In addition to the typical casino bars, the casino has a deli, and the delicious (and affordable) Mid-City Grill.
116 Main Street
Central City, CO. 80427
Opened in 1991, right when casinos became legal in Colorado, the Dostal Alley is locally-owned family-run business formerly home to a rock shop. After all, Central City was founded on the selling of rocks. (Gold is a rock, right?)
The old, charming two story building has slots and video poker machines. And while they don’t have table games, they do have an award-winning micro-brewery in the house!
Easy Street Casino
120 Main Street
Central City, Colorado 80427
The Easy Street Casino is owned by the same owners who own the “The Famous Bonanza Casino” across the street. The East Street only offers slot machines and video poker machines.
Millie’s Restaurant on the second floor serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Gold Coin Bar downstairs has an old west saloon vibe and is reportedly the oldest bar in the state of Colorado. Downstairs is an arcade for the kids.
107 Main Street
Central City, Colorado 80427
As with the Easy Street Casino, the casino closes at 2 a.m. on weekdays, and at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The Famous Bonanza has a casino bar and a few blackjack tables upstairs.
Johnny Z’s Casino
132 Lawrence Street
Central City, CO. 80427
Johnny Z’s casino, owned by the same owners of the Z Casino down in Black Hawk, is off of main street, in a beautiful brick building across from the Century Casino’s parking garage.
Besides the usual assortment of slots and video poker they have table games with $3 minimum limits.
The Z Cafe upstairs is known for their specials on prime rib. Just $7.77 often.
Reserve Casino Hotel
321 Gregory Street
Central City, Colorado 80427
The Reserve Casino Hotel is the Colorado equivalent of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. It has that sort of vibe.
The casino has 550 slots, along with blackjack, craps, roulette, and 3 card poker. From Monday through Thursday, $3 table minimums can be found. The smaller poker room on the second floor has some bad-beat jackpot promotions, and comps for tracked hourly play.
Including the Lava Room, there are three bars. In addition to a coffee counter, there is a buffet and steakhouse.
The hotel has just 119 rooms though. Downstairs, the Lava Room showroom, with seating of over 300 guests, is the only entertainment venue of any size in the Black Hawk/Central City area, and it regularly hosts acts like Pam Tillis, Warrant, Ratt, along with a slew of comedians. The Lava Room also hosts bingo games.
History of Central City Casinos
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 casino owners, on the other hand, just remodeled the tiny space in the old historic buildings. While they remain much more charming than many of the bigger Black Hawk casinos, they lack the Vegas-style and pizzazz and size many gamblers have come to want.
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).
Central City’s Casino Market
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 16 casinos versus Central City’s 6 casinos.
Up until a few years ago, 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.
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.