Day Tripper: Sure Bets Close to Home

Central City and Black Hawk offer plenty of games and gambling, but it’s the antithesis of the Las Vegas hype

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Las Vegas might be calling your name but that doesn’t mean you can always answer. Trying to figure out the logistics for a quick trip to Sin City can be a hassle to say the least. Booking flights, finding a babysitter, trying to convince your significant other to let you make the trip without bringing that other who’d rather not go.

So what’s to be done when there’s money burning in your pocket to be lost or won on dice and slots but flying to the Strip isn’t in the cards? Time to take the drive up to Colorado’s premier gambling destination: Black Hawk.

Instead of dealing with a packed airport, cramped flight and intrusive scanning at airport security, all that’s required to make it up to the little gambling oasis in the midst of the mountains of Gilpin County is a short drive from Aurora. It’s a little faster to take I-70 to the Highway 6 exit, but the winding scenic road that carves through the mountains and follows the river is well worth the extra time spent in the car.

First stop from this route is Black Hawk. Find some place to start laying your money down. Smaller casinos line the streets in Black Hawk and Central City, but for the most part they offer only slot machines. If you crave human interaction, as you lose on big bets, the major casinos offer cash games for roulette, black jack, craps and poker.

Ameristar is one of the biggest casinos in the area, and its cash poker tables are where you’ll find the big rollers. If you fancy yourself an expert player, or just have a big stack to play with, hit up their casino floor and see if your reputation as a card shark at the neighborhood poker game holds up or if you’re just a guppy swimming with the real predators.

If you’re playing with a smaller bank and want to get your feet wet, casinos like the Golden Gate offer an early morning poker tournament most days of the week for $40. Likewise Lady Luck Casino usually has poker tables offering $2/$10 spread limit Texas Hold’em poker, which means antees are $2 and the max bet is $10.

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Since drinks are free pretty much everywhere when you’re at the tables playing (here’s a tip: always tip the waitress when they bring you the free cocktail), it might be a good idea to find a place to stay up in Black Hawk for the night. There are inexpensive rooms galore in both Black Hawk and Central City that are much more than just a crash pad and plenty of buffets to peruse. But if you want to do it right, book yourself a suite at one of the big boy casinos in town.

We picked a suite at the Ameristar, and virtually got to live a day out of Frank Sinatra’s life. Not only does the hotel offer a great steakhouse with Colorado beef and first-rate games, but you can end the evening in a suite that makes your apartment at home go wanting for space. The spa and outdoor pool were a great way to ease the loss of my gambling cash.

While Las Vegas might have the shows, endless neon and that mobile cocktail joie de vivre, Black Hawk has something the Nevada desert doesn’t offer: picturesque views, river fishing and hiking spots galore.

You’re odds at getting rich might be better a couple miles down the road at the Hidee Gold Mine, a real mine that not only offers seriously educational and extensive tours, but you can take a pick and try and chisel a fortune out of a gold vein for the price of your $23.95 admission. Gold panning is a few bucks extra.

Golden Gate State Park is a reasonable drive away and has multiple trails that offer a variety of hikes for every skill level and Clear Creek is a perfect location for fly fishing. If you want a little history with your hike, check out the difficult Black Hawk Peak Trail, a 4.1-mile loop that includes an old mining town near the top of the trail.

And if you need a little highbrow culture, plan your excursion during Central City Opera’s season. The opera has been running since 1932 and is housed in an original Victorian theater constructed in 1878. But what makes it worth the visit is the level of talent the company attracts every year.

Aurora to Black Hawk: 44 miles

Black Hawk info: blackhawkcolorado.com

Central City Opera: centralcityopera.org

Hidee Gold Mine: hideegoldmine.com/hidee.htm