Tribal casinos are seasonal respite

Nov 29, 2005 2:27 AM

Colorado is known for its white winters and chilly weather, but people who want to experience gaming this time of year without a wind chill-factor should try the tribal casinos near Four Corners.

They include the Ute Mountain Casino in Towoac and Sky Ute Casino & Lodge in Ignacio, both near the New Mexico border.

With the Southern Ute Indian Tribe mulling an expansion of Sky Ute and a new slot parlor on Lake Capote, and the Navajo Nation rolling the dice on a proposed casino near Shiprock, New Mexico, the Four Corners could soon have one of the country’s highest ratios of casinos to people outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Already, there are three casinos (two in Colorado, one in New Mexico) to serve more than 180,000 people in the general area.

Each offers distinct options in a unique atmosphere. For instance, Ute Mountain houses a plush room for tournament poker games, like those that dominate the cable television airwaves in the wee morning hours.

Both tribes voluntarily abide by Colorado Division of Gaming rules that place severe restrictions on so-called table games. No roulette. No craps (dice). And the maximum bet on a hand of blackjack or poker is only $5.

So, if it’s high-stakes games and Las Vegas-style glitz you’re after, you probably want to leave the local gambling dens and head to Sin City.

Nevertheless, you can empty your pocketbook on the slots and other diversions.

The food and entertainment options are all right, but nothing like the glitzy steak houses in Las Vegas.

Still, the casinos find themselves in close competition, largely fighting to attract the same pool of local bettors and visiting tourists. Both have pumped thousands into billboards, print and television advertisements and renovations.

All the competition, of course, certainly benefits the casual gambler, as each casino is upgrading on a monthly basis. Overall, none of the casinos is too seedy to repel locals or tourists. Nor are they too glamorous to offend the region’s blue-collar sensibilities.

Both casinos ring with the bountiful sound of ample slot machines. So, if you’re chasing the jackpot, take your pick. Each casino claims it offers the best in new penny-slot machines.

For clean air breathers, Sky Ute offers the only smoke-free slot parlor. Ute Mountain boasts 18 wide-area progressive machines that are connected to other Colorado casinos and offer steeper payouts,.

Sky Ute has six to 10 slot games linked to other casinos.

For a wide variety of table games and overall atmosphere you’re in luck at Ute Mountain. The casino is large, offering 12 tables and for better or worse, the labyrinthine feel of a Las Vegas Strip casino.

Plus, the poker room is state of the art, with round-the-clock games, a limited waiting list and near-nightly buy-in and limit tournament options. The cushy chairs and flat-panel televisions hanging on each wood-finish wall might make you feel like the next Johnny Chan, but probably won’t win you a Chan-like stack.

The Sky Ute casino also offers a host of table games and boasts a private poker room. But the place is small and shabby. It’s not uncommon to wait a half-hour for a spot at the blackjack or poker tables when the floor is busy.