When It Comes to Betting Limits, Colorado Casino Towns Want Home Rule

Local Choice Colorado has qualified a measure for the November ballot that would, if passed, give the state’s three gaming towns, Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, unilateral rights to raise betting limits and add games. The measure, says David Farahi (l.), CEO of Monarch Casino and Resort in Black Hawk, could make them more competitive in what could be a dog-eat-dog post-Covid era.

When It Comes to Betting Limits, Colorado Casino Towns Want Home Rule

A group called Local Choice Colorado (LCC) has qualified a measure for the November ballot that would, if passed, give the state’s three gaming towns the right to raise betting limits and add games without repeatedly seeking voters’ permission.

Only two states have betting limits. In Colorado’s trio of betting communities—Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City, former Gold Rush towns in the Rocky Mountains—that limit is currently $100.

To qualify the measure, the campaign needed 124,632 valid signatures. On July 28, LCC handed in more than 210,000. The state had 30 days from that date (until August 27) to validate them.

The measure is currently referred to as Initiative 257. When approved by the Secretary of State’s office, it will be an amendment with a number.

Bruce Brown, former mayor of Cripple Creek, told GGB News he supports the measure. “We’re the most impacted by gaming and we’ve built most of our economies around hotels, restaurants, tourism and travelers who visit because of gaming. Voters in our communities should be allowed to decide what’s best for us and our economy, including whether we want to change betting limits and add new games.”

David Farahi, CEO of Monarch Casino and Resort in Black Hawk, agreed. “The measure would put Colorado on a more level playing field with the rest of the country. Colorado is one of only two remaining states with bet limits, and our limits are by far the most restrictive in the country. By allowing the three gaming towns to approve new betting limits and games, casinos could attract higher-income Coloradans who typically travel to Nevada, as well as out-of-state, high-stakes bettors visiting Aspen or Vail.”

More high-value patrons “will improve economic opportunities for people living in these mountain towns by bringing in more tourists, creating good paying jobs and increasing tax revenues for community colleges, state tourism promotion and historical preservation.”

The campaign hasn’t shared the results of polls gauging voter support, but LCC spokeswoman Karen Crummy commented, “This issue isn’t difficult for voters to understand and support. We’re confident that this measure can and will win, as long as we don’t take a single vote for granted and continue moving full speed ahead.”

So far, she said, there’s been no organized opposition to the proposal.

The measure was in the works before Covid-19 hit, said Farahi. “But it took on a new sense of urgency once the pandemic paralyzed Colorado and shut down casinos between mid-March and mid-June, crippling the towns’ economies and forcing businesses to layoff and furlough employees.”

He acknowledged that the measure, if approved, wouldn’t give the local gaming industry an immediate shot in the arm.

“It won’t be a total game-changer. These communities have been hit hard. If they vote to allow an expansion in gaming, there should be a growth in tourism and gaming visitors, but that growth will take time. However, any additional revenue makes a difference, especially in these unprecedented times.

“If we can get some portion of people who would otherwise go to Las Vegas to stay and play in Colorado, it benefits the whole state.”

Brown was involved in bringing gaming to Colorado from the very beginning, in 1991. “I wasn’t mayor yet when gaming was legalized, but I was a resident, and my family and I were very involved with the effort,” he recalled. “It was a major-league change for (Cripple Creek). If it didn’t happen, I don’t know if we would have survived as a town. We had some tourism in the summer, and a couple mom-and-pop stores, but that was it. We were right on the brink of collapse. Legalization changed everything for the better.”

Colorado’s betting limit definitely makes it an outlier among most other states that allow gaming, said Farahi—in South Dakota, the only other state with betting limits, the maximum stake is $1,000.

“Colorado’s limits are by far the most restrictive in the country. The bet limit and lack of games like baccarat dissuades a segment of Coloradans who would otherwise be interested in visiting Colorado casinos. If the three gaming towns choose to expand limits and games, it will grow the gaming pie, not only for the casino operators like Monarch, but also the state gaming tax revenue beneficiaries like community colleges, History Colorado and the state tourism promotion budget.”

In mid-June, casinos in the state reopened with social distancing in place and at 50 percent capacity. “Table games are still prohibited, but we’re optimistic that will change in the next few weeks,” Farahi said.

Articles by Author: David Ross

David D. Ross edits the Escondido Times-Advocate and Valley Roadrunner newspapers. A freelance journalist for over 40 years, Ross is knowledgeable about San Diego's backcountry and has written on tourism in Julian, Palomar Mountain, San Diego Safari Park—and the area’s casinos. He has a master’s degree in military history from Norwich University.