The word “casino” can conjure some very specific stereotypes. You can’t help but imagine world-class poker players surrounding the tables, their sunglasses hiding the truth of their hand.
Forget the flashing neon and smoky air. Forget the marble columns and high-rolling elites. Clarke Rosa and his business Capitol Casino are about as far from your Vegas-inspired casino stereotype as you can get.
Tucked on the corner of 16th and Basler, the decades-long-running casino that welcomes you with a big smile and an oddly familiar down-home vibe was built one table and one knock on a neighbor’s door at a time.
“Before this, my wife, SanDee and I had a little club on the corner of El Camino and Del Paso for about 10 years,” Rosa tells me as we sit together in a corner of the lounge that is connected to his casino, “but then this building went empty when the State Lottery outgrew the space and moved in the early ‘90s. So I bought the building and started the process to move the club, which took about a year and a half and had … a lot of opposition.”
Considering the stereotypes that can come along with the gambling lifestyle, Rosa knew that convincing the area a casino would be a good thing wasn’t going to be easy. His determination became clear quite quickly, however, as he, SanDee and one of his long-time employees took a somewhat unique approach to garnering favor.
“We were able to overcome it,” Rosa says. “We took myself, SanDee and one of our waitresses and knocked on every door. We went day in and day out introducing ourselves, got to know them, told them what we were doing. And I found that people were so surprised that it wasn’t some big fat-cat in a suit trying to take over the space. We were just regular people. It helped people connect that it really was a family business.”
After tireless efforts made of getting to know each and every person they could, Capitol Casino was born. The former lottery building transformed into the space we know it as today: a combination of card games, amazing food — try the biscuits and gravy — and a staff that makes you feel like they’ve known you all your life, even if it’s your first time stepping foot on the casino’s decorative floors.
“I think a lot of people get intimidated at the idea of stepping foot into a casino,” Rosa says. “There’s an idea that either everyone is a world-class expert there to take your money, or there’s the idea that you’re going to walk into a room full of drunken gamblers down on their luck, and that just isn’t what happens here. It’s really more like ‘Cheers’ here.”
Rosa takes a gentle pause to check if my face registered the reference.
“Where everybody knows your name?” I reply proudly. Rosa nods.
“We’re a family. We’re a place to spend a fun evening enjoying some interactive entertainment and maybe walking away a few dollars richer in your pocket. But, I always tell everyone, especially newcomers, that the most important thing to remember is that this is supposed to be fun. Never play more than you can afford to lose.” — Clarke Rosa
Owner, Capital Casino
“We’re not just a casino,” Rosa says, beaming. “We’re a family. We’re a place to spend a fun evening enjoying some interactive entertainment and maybe walking away a few dollars richer in your pocket. But, I always tell everyone, especially newcomers, that the most important thing to remember is that this is supposed to be fun. Never play more than you can afford to lose.”
You wouldn’t think a casino owner would be the one cautioning you on what you spend, but that’s what makes Capitol Casino a different kind of place. So, the next time you picture a casino, forget the high rollers and the velvet ropes. Think of Clarke Rosa, a man who built a longstanding business on a foundation of trust, community and friendships. Think of Capitol Casino, a casino where the biggest win is the smiles you’re greeted with and the welcoming environment for even the most inexperienced player to learn the ropes.
Clarke Rosa rolled the proverbial dice on building a community along with a business and won.