teddys
teddys
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August 15th, 2011 at 6:18:59 PM permalink
Black Hawk / Central City report


As part of my return cross-country trip, I stopped into Black Hawk/Central City, Colorado to check out the gambling offerings. I wasn't really sure what to expect. There are only three locations in Colorado where state-sponsored gambling is legal: Black Hawk and Central City are near Denver. Cripple Creek is near Colorado Springs. To get to Central City, you drive through Black Hawk, and anyway, it is a much more developed gambling market than Central City. I was suprised at the amount and scale of the gaming offerins they have, and the town is nice, too. It is set high up in a mountain valley in the Rockies, west of Denver just off Interstate 70. There are probably more casinos in a square mile than anywhere in the world (maybe Macau has more), so if you like to casino hop, this is your place.

I stopped in Vail on the way east on I-70 and got my first taste of what lay in store. The place was PACKED. I didn't feel like paying $2.50 for a cup of coffee or dodging rich peoples' BMWs, so I got out of there pretty fast. However, I-70 was absolutely jammed between Vail and Denver. The worst traffic I have ever encountered in my life. It was a Sunday afternoon, so I assume everybody was coming back home from the weekend. Ugh. There was a beautiful rainbow in the Rockies, so it was hard to get angry about the traffic.

I pulled off I-70 onto the Central City Parkway, which is a mountain road that goes straight to Central City, bypassing Black Hawk. It is a nice four-lane highway with very steep grades and curves. I coasted down a steep hill into Central City itself. There isn't much of a town there. I parked in a surface lot and walked around a bit. It was raining. It is an old mining town, and the casinos are placed in the storefronts and repurposed old buildings. Most of the casinos are on multiple levels, and it is easy to get lost, with different entrances.

The first casino I went into was the Century. It seemed to big one of the bigger ones in CC. For signing up for the players club, I got $5 hard cash. That was nice. They had a few table games upstairs, but they looked kind of dead, so I didn't play. I walked across the street to the Bonanza. I think it was an old saloon or something. I played blackjack for about 40 minutes on a DD game, S17, D10/11 only. I lost, but they mixed a mean (and generous) white russian.

Drinks are free in CC/BH casinos, and the best part is, all of the casinos are no smoking! You can step outside for a smoking break on the patio.

I checked out a few more casinos in CC, but they seemed to be mostly slots. Down the road was Fortune Valley, a larger place but one that didn't have anything that attracted me to it. I inquired about a room, and they quoted me a price of $95. Keep trying. Back at Century, they gave me a $103 quote. What is this, Manhattan?

Finally, I checked out the final casino in CC, Johnny Zee's. This is my new favorite casino. They have a DD blackjack where the dealer stands on soft 17, double on anything, for a $10 minimum. Unfortunately the penetration is piss-poor, but what a good game! While I was playing, they came around twice with a hors d'oueveres tray. One was some kind of olive tapanade, the other was cheesesteaks. What a great idea! They had me hooked at this point. I lost at blackjack, and went to play $3 craps, and got a cup of snacks from the bar. The action was good and the crews were friendly. Unfortunately, the dice were not cooperating. and they cleaned me out. I highly recommend Johnny Zee's.

I got back in my car in the pouring rain and drove down the hill to Black Hawk, determined to get a comped room for the night. I refuse to pay for casino rooms on principle (except when I do). Fortunately, my prayers were answered at the Isle of Capri, and its sister property, Lady Luck. They had a promotion where if you earned 500 points in one day, you got a hotel room for the night. I went off to find a 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machine, and quickly earned 500 points, and got one of the last hotel rooms they had.

The rooms at the Isle are nice, about on the level with a Holiday Inn Express, with nice beds, iron, safe, and large bathroom. The Isle and the Lady Luck are one of only four casinos with hotels in Black Hawk. The other ones are at The Lodge, and at the Ameristar, which has a HUGE hotel (but pretty fancy).

I walked around a bit, used my food comp from Lady Luck for a Bison Burger, and played Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em at the Riv. (Lost $30). The Riveria Black Hawk is one of the nicer, and bigger, casinos in BH and is nothing like the Riviera is Las Vegas. They are also the first casino you hit driving in from Denver, but they still didn't seem that crowded.

The next casino up the road is the Lady Luck, and attached to it, the Isle of Capri. They are corporate cousins. Of the two, I prefer the Lady Luck, which has a railroad motif, good live entertainment, good video poker, and excellent crews on the craps game, with $2 minimums (10x odds). The Isle, like most Isle of Capri properties, is kind of downscale and grind-jointy. (Not like any of the casino in Black Hawk aren't).

Walking uphill, you reach a trio of Golden Gaming casinos: Golden Gulch, Golden Gates and Golden Mardi Gras. They all use the same players club, and are all fairly small. Gates has a very large poker room, and a "sexy dealers" pit. The dealers didn't look very sexy from what I saw, however. Mardi Gras has a nice cafe upstairs (earned a $10 comp), and good video poker including multi-line deuces wild with a good paytable. I hit a royal earning my food comp, so that was a nice $200 hit on nickels. The Gulch is what looks to be a house filled with slots. They are all coin droppers. They give out free popcorn. Yum.


Up next are two very large properties. The Lodge and Ameristar. Ameristar is the obvious 800-pound gorilla in Black Hawk. Their property is brand-new, huge, with a 500-room hotel that towers over everything in the city. Their table games also commanded the highest minimums, often $15-$25. Craps was $10. There was a very nice buffet, so I made a note to come buy the next day and earn a comp for it. I did, playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em for an hour and a half, losing $287.50 (ouch), but earning $9 in cash back plus the buffet and a pass to the "Star Lounge," which I didn't use. The buffet was very good, but mostly stood out for its Asian section, where they would prepare for you a bowl of Pho noodle soup. It was probably the best Pho I've had in my life, with fresh cilantro, mint, jalapenos, and hot sacue for garnish. I should have gotten two bowls.

The Lodge is right smack-dab in the middle of Black Hawk and seems to be the busiest in town. It is very convenient to get to, with a large parking garage. The gaming offerings were mediocre, with poorer blackjack rules and video poker than the other places in town. They did have a large poker room, and a nice fish pond right by the table games pit. I did not play at the Lodge, but I liked the decor.

Between the Lodge and "central" Black Hawk is a small dead space that you kind of have to walk past. The casinos following are smaller, more "local" joints compared to the coporate titans further downhill. They actually are storefront casinos, taking up the old storefronts in Black Hawk. The first casino is the Canyon Club. This is an unremarkable casino with slots and table games. I wandered by the craps game and they had half-tabled it and one guy was playing the don'ts. The crew encouraged me to join in, so I bought it for $100 and put $3 on the DP line and the shooter rolled an eight. I asked how much I could lay against, and they said $96 (the max bet on any wager in Colorado is $100). So I stacked up the rest of my chips minus $1 next to my pass line bet. The shooter was impressed. He obliged me by rolling a seven. I continued on this way betting the max lay, and together we missed about four points in a row, after which I colored up dropping $13 for the dealers and making myself a bit of money.

Next door to the Canyon Club is the Gilpin, another storefront casino that is in an old hotel. It is also unremarkable, but has $2 craps. I didn't play since the crew looked bored and there wasn't much action. Next up is Fitzgeralds. I signed up for the players club and got a coupon book for a free entree, $5 match play, and some point bonuses. Unfortunately, I misplaced the coupon book after about 3 minutes. Doh! I was too ashamed to ask for another one.

Black Hawk casinos get shittier the further uphill you go. The last casinos I came to were a real trip. They were Bull Whackers, Bull Durham, Wild Card, Black Hawk Station, and the Sasquatch casino. Actually Bull Whackers was pretty nice, with a beautiful Victorian interior, but only slots. The others were some of the craziest casinos I've been in. They were all coin-dropper slots, no table games, in what looked to be dilapated houses. You walked up narrow staircases to the attic, which was also crammed with slots, and also had a soda fountain. What? The Sasquatch casino took the cake. They floor was astroturf, with a huge furry figure of a Sasquatch in the center. The slots looked like they had just been tossed anywhere in the room. There was a breakfast bar to the left where they would make you a $0.99 breakfast, which I was afraid to try (althought the $2.99 prime rib looked decent). Absolutely horrible layout.

I did have some good luck at Black Hawk Station. They had a promo where if you played $5 on this particular slot, you would get $5 back if you didn't win. The slot was one of the "Hundred or Nothing" slots. You've probably seen it before: The only symbols on the reels are red sevens, and if you get them lined up, you get $100. Otherwise you get nothing. My type of slot! Well, three spins in, you guessed it, the sevens lined up and the dollar tokens came clanking into the tray. I was one of the lucky ones that day; the slot attendant showed me her log and only two or three out of maybe fifty won each day. It was certainly an appreciated win, since I never play slots.

Black Hawk / CC is by far the most weird, at the most intriguing, gaming destination I've encountered in my travels. I would recommend visiting. The product is good, and the physical setting is absoltely gorgeous. It would be fun to get away in the mountains after a day or two of gambling. The only thing I would suggest for improvement is more, and more affordable, hotel rooms. Most of the clientele seemed to by day trippers from Denver. The amount of freebies you can pile up, especially if you are a newcomer, is astounding. I especially like the free hot dog and cookies I got from one casino for signing up. Yum :)
"Dice, verily, are armed with goads and driving-hooks, deceiving and tormenting, causing grievous woe." -Rig Veda 10.34.4
CrystalMath
CrystalMath
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August 16th, 2011 at 1:39:10 PM permalink
Thanks for the good info. I'll have to give Johnny Zee's a shot. I've only been in some of the larger casinos. Since I really can't stand playing slots, I don't go to the mom and pop shops. Locals (not Denverites, but people from Blackhawk/Central City) seem to like Red Dolly's, which has cheap greasy (tasty) food.

I would go a lot more often if the rooms were decently priced. I live about 60 miles away and it would be nice not driving home at 2am. I once stayed at the Isle of Capri in a suite. It was really nice and it had a huge jetted tub in the room. The view from the window was excellent too.
I heart Crystal Math.
teddys
teddys
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August 16th, 2011 at 4:11:02 PM permalink
I didn't notice this until I left, but Johnny Zee's advertises a hotel.
"Dice, verily, are armed with goads and driving-hooks, deceiving and tormenting, causing grievous woe." -Rig Veda 10.34.4
gambler
gambler
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August 16th, 2011 at 5:08:08 PM permalink
Teddys, what were the odds for the majority of the craps tables? 3x4x5x? 10x?

I found it interesting to see that with a max bet of $100, you were able to bet a $3 don't pass with $96 laying the odds behind. Interesting that odds bet is not considered to be a separate bet.
FleaStiff
FleaStiff
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August 16th, 2011 at 5:47:13 PM permalink
DUI rooms? Or considering narrow icy roads, accident avoidance rooms is perhaps better.
If not a comped room then some sort of crash pad type place would work wonders.

I know some RVers trek from casino to casino visiting various historical sites along the way. Space in an RV park might not be too likely in a cramped mountain town though.
imperialpalace
imperialpalace
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August 16th, 2011 at 7:46:40 PM permalink
Great trip report. I had my first gambling experience in Blackhawk/ Central City. I put $5 into a quarter machine and won $250. Alas, this gambling experience has proven to be atypical.

Can't wait for your Cripple Creek report, home of the Brass Ass.
teddys
teddys
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August 16th, 2011 at 9:35:17 PM permalink
Quote: gambler

Teddys, what were the odds for the majority of the craps tables? 3x4x5x? 10x?

10x everywhere except for Gilpin and Canyon which let you put anything up to $100. Fitzgerald's was 3x4x5x. Johnny Zee's might have been 20x.
"Dice, verily, are armed with goads and driving-hooks, deceiving and tormenting, causing grievous woe." -Rig Veda 10.34.4
7outlineaway
7outlineaway
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August 19th, 2011 at 8:58:51 AM permalink
Sorry I'm only seeing this thread now. I live just west of the Eisenhower Tunnel. I would have told you that whatever else you do, stay the hell off I-70 on Sunday afternoons. Otherwise, glad you enjoyed the experience.

As of a couple months ago Johnny Z's was 10x and the Lodge was 345x on craps, although the "odds scene" here is kind of fluid. I still play at the Lodge because they rate odds on craps and I get decent promos from them.

Hotel rooms are very easy to get comped on weeknights and very difficult to get comped on weekends. The spread here is greater than it is in Vegas. There really is no destination traffic and I'm not sure this will ever change. There aren't a lot of places to put convention centers, giant pools or other facilities.

Of the three hotels I've stayed at there, Isle was easily the least nice. Not terrible, and worth staying at for free, but the Lady Luck and Lodge rooms are noticibly newer and better furnished. Johnny Z's uses the Fortune Valley hotel. Fortune Valley, by the way, had a recent remodel and now has a much more modern, edgy look inside. I've heard rumors that Hard Rock wants to buy/license it, but that was some time ago and I'm not sure if the remodel was related to this.
7outlineaway
7outlineaway
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August 19th, 2011 at 9:08:59 AM permalink
Quote: gambler

I found it interesting to see that with a max bet of $100, you were able to bet a $3 don't pass with $96 laying the odds behind. Interesting that odds bet is not considered to be a separate bet.



Odds *are* a separate bet for the purpose of the $100 maximum. For example, I've often laid $100 (no 4/10) or $99 (no 5/9) on $10 flat don't bets. The issue is everyone requires the odds bet to result in an exact integer payout. This is true everywhere I've played here, so I presume some sort of state law requires it (or states the casino must always round up on payouts).
gambler
gambler
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August 19th, 2011 at 9:22:10 AM permalink
I am planning on spending a Friday night and a Wednesday night in Black Hawk next month. I appreciate any suggestions on where to stay, eat, etc. Any place that I have to check out? Favorite craps crew?

Interesting to hear that the Lodge rates your odds bet. Anywhere else do that? How hard is it to get a comped room when playing just table games?

Any advice or thoughts from Colorado people is most welcome.

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