Two tiny Colorado towns quietly build a $400 million industry

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BLACK HAWK, Colo. -- A miniature Las Vegas in the making? This tiny town of about 100 residents is quickly attracting casinos and even a taste of the type of entertainment that has turned Las Vegas from strictly a gambling mecca into a more diverse destination.

Recent figures show that Black Hawk and Central City, its more populous neighbor of about 500, represent a $400 million gaming market.

"It's soon going to be a half-billion dollars annually. Those are pretty impressive numbers for an 8-year-old industry with a $5 maximum bet limit," said Lynette Hailey, Black Hawk's city manager.

The 20 casinos here did $31 million in business in August, the second-highest total in the area's history and a 22% leap compared with the same month last year, according to Roger Baker, publications information specialist for the city.

In fact, revenues here each month have been at least 20% higher than in the same month of the previous year, according to Baker.

Two more casinos are under construction.

"The Riviera will have about 1,100 slot machines and table games and a 300-seat theater. We're hoping it will have some of the same type of entertainment it is famous for at its casino in Las Vegas," Baker said.

The Riviera is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

Another local developer plans to open the Mardi Gras with 600 or so devices and slot machines next year.

The Isle of Capri also is building a 235-room hotel that is due to open in the middle of next year.

"Hotels are a key thing for our development because right now, people can come here but not stay overnight," Baker said.

Black Hawk and Central City also are attempting to lure visitors by emphasizing historical sites.

Central City also had a 10% gain over July's figures, marking its own third straight month of double-digit growth, according to Baker.

"Helping it was the reopening of the Tollgate Casino, owned by Global Casinos, the Colorado Springs-based parent of Black Hawk's Durham Casino," Baker said.

Also helping the city's growth were a series of well-attended free auto shows, concerts and other events.

Just how many visitors are coming here is not known, but Baker said traffic counts show about 15,000 vehicles a day during peak periods.

This area draws heavily from Denver, which can be reached after a 45-minute drive.

So far at least, the Colorado gaming areas have resisted the Vegas trend of theming resorts keyed to various parts of the world.

"We're more of a Colorado-themed resort. We don't have anything trying to look like Paris or Monte Carlo," Baker said.

City of Black Hawk: (303) 582-1410

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