Sermon on the Mount

The goddess Hathor has a message for Black Hawk.

"I don't see her," says the security guard standing across the street from the Black Hawk Casino by Hyatt. "Where is this goddess supposed to be? In the light-colored rock? Wait -- maybe I can see her, a little. Looks like someone laying down with a big stomach and her legs in the air."

Not a very celestial pose for a deity. Roaming around Black Hawk, I spotted her from the top of Miner's Mesa, and to me she looked like a wispy woman with long hair, doing a Grateful Dead-type dance on the half-mountain behind the Hyatt casino. From the top floor of the parking garage, I saw her outline in the rock, up close and fuzzy. And huge.

I've been called here by Delores Risberg of Wheat Ridge. Delores is obsessed with the mountain, which was cut in half -- its rubble dumped into a nearby valley -- in order to accommodate Colorado's largest casino. A typical visionary would conclude that this hurt the mountain, or at least pissed it off. Not Delores.

The spirit of Hathor is said to reside in this mountain overlooking Black Hawk.
The spirit of Hathor is said to reside in this mountain overlooking Black Hawk.

"The figure of Hathor, the great sky goddess that gave birth to the universe, is in this mountain," she says. "There is not another place on the face of our earth like this one little corner of a mountain, in Black Hawk, Colorado. The mountain wanted to come down and the casino to go up. Spiritually, the mountain gave birth to the casino."

When the casino was still under construction, Delores's psychic guides told her that it would prosper like no other gaming establishment in the eleven-year history of limited stakes. She wasn't surprised when the Hyatt announced plans for a luxury hotel to adjoin the casino. That hotel has yet to be built, however, and rumors of a looming bankruptcy filing are circulating -- the casino's reportedly had trouble making interest payments. But Delores's analysis is different. The casino's exhibit on the history of gambling, located in a second-floor hall, is simply not Hathor-friendly. It does contain a brief mention of the moment when Zeus, Hades and Poseidon shot craps to divide up the realms of the world, but Hathor sees this as a slap in the face.

"They're dealing with a spiritual being here, not just a physical casino," Delores says. "It feels to me that Hathor is heartbroken at the casino's refusal to acknowledge her."

Health problems keep Delores from traveling to Black Hawk as often as she'd like, and when she comes, it's only to stand on the sixth floor of the parking garage, as close as she can get to Hathor. She has no interest in gambling.

"I don't gamble, either," observes one Black Hawk security guard. "I hate Black Hawk! I hate what they've done to it. My first month on this job I was inside, listening to the machines all day, thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?" And then I found out. These people need someone who cares. You see the old ones come in at eight in the morning, set down in front of a slot, and at two they're still there, without having had anything to eat or drink. They pass out. They just fall right off their stools."

He's come to feel protective of these people -- the crowds of mostly seniors who arrive by the busload on weekdays. He prefers them to the weekend rowdies.

That's understandable: There's something contagiously peppy about the senior days that most of Black Hawk's casinos feature during the week. As Hyatt speakers release a hopeful stream of "Get Up and Boogie" at 9 a.m. one recent Monday, the grandmas and grandpas start pouring in. Down in the city, worker bees are filing into their hives. Here, the goddess rules.

"Is this about Hathor again?" asks a woman at the Hyatt management office. People at the casino are familiar with the goddess, and with Delores Risberg. They claim to be exhausted by the whole thing -- they say Delores has managed to briefly interest the media, from 60 Minutes to National Geographic -- but I get the feeling it gives them a secret kick. What other casino has its own deranged visionary? They've looked up Hathor on Egyptian mythology Web sites, just to see who they're dealing with.

Within five minutes, however, word comes down from the Hyatt general manager that discussion of Hathor is to cease. He's tired of Delores's constant interruptions, her bizarre fervor, her promise not to "let this go until this magical mountain is known to everyone."

I'm politely escorted from the administrative wing of the casino.

My knowledge of supernatural/ancient goddess stuff is hazy, but I could swear that Hathor, spurned by the Hyatt and dismissed by the masses, has been busy elsewhere in Black Hawk. Specifically, at Crook's Palace, a boarded-up bar on Gregory Street, said -- by a sign on its own wall -- to be the oldest saloon in Colorado.

"It's not," says Roger Baker, who used to work for the City of Black Hawk and is now the interim clerk for Gilpin County. "It might be the oldest bar in Black Hawk, but only because what else is left? It's certainly not the oldest bar in Central City. There's no truth in advertising in signage around here."

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