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A Rockies Casino Town Preps for the Big Time

Relaxed gambling laws attracted the Ameristar hotel and casino to Black Hawk, Colo.

Just 40 miles from Denver — and with little more than 100 full-time residents — Black Hawk unfolds along a ravine dotted with tumbledown mines and colorful gingerbread-style homes. Its dusty main drag, often crammed with tour buses, passes through Victorian-era general stores and hotels refashioned into casinos with names like Bullwhackers and Bull Durham.
But a state law requiring casinos to boot out gamers at 2 a.m. and limiting bets to $5 has mostly confined the gambling action in Black Hawk to penny jackpots and Texas Hold ’Em tournaments with all the excitement of a church bingo game. As a result, its casinos have catered mostly to casual gamblers and retirees.
This summer, however, the stakes in Black Hawk are being raised.
On July 2, a new state law goes into effect that raises betting limits to $100, and allows Colorado’s casinos to remain open around the clock and add craps and roulette tables. In anticipation, casinos are expanding their pits, sprucing up their entertainment options and replacing all-you-can-eat buffets with broader dining choices.
With swankier accommodations and larger jackpots in the offing, local officials expect Black Hawk to become a bigger draw for high rollers from the Denver area and beyond.
“We’re hoping to garner some of the folks who in the past would have gone to Vegas,” said David Spellman, the town’s tanned and goateed mayor and a fifth-generation native. “With table games like roulette, this place will generate more excitement.”

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