The 2020 race was full of contentious issues–not the least of which was the presidential election. But Colorado’s electoral college votes and congressional races aren’t the only things voters decided last night. Colorado’s ballot initiatives offer a glimpse into the state’s future. One of the most important for Colorado’s casinos was Amendment 77. Amendment 77 would allow Black Hawk, Cripple Creek, and Central City residents to vote on their own casinos’ bet limits and casino game additions. And Colorado voters passed it with about 60% of the vote.
Gaming Initiatives Tend To Be Popular
According to early vote counts, Amendment 77 is on track to pass with a rough 60/40 margin. Ten points would be a clear victory for casino city residents. It’s a far wider margin than sports betting legalization in 2019.
Prop DD only passed by 2.82 percentage points. However, it’s unlikely Colorado’s entire electorate became that much more accepting of sports betting in less than a year. Prop DD was introduced as a tax bill because it introduced a new tax on sportsbooks. Although consumers weren’t paying that tax, the language in the bill began with “shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually.” Much of the late campaigning for Prop DD was reminding voters that the tax bill wasn’t going to be on them. But a technicality in Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights required that introduction.
However, Amendment 77 is set to pass by a similar margin as Amendment 50. Amendment 50 raised bet limits in Colorado’s casino cities from $5 to $100. In 2008, Amendment 50 passed with just under 59% of the vote–a similar margin to Amendment 77. It seems that Colorado is a gambling-friendly state. Unambiguous gambling initiatives seem to have a robust buffer between their proponents and opponents. Colorado has maintained that pattern for twelve years and–barring another amendment written like a tax bill–likely will continue to.
Support For Amendment 77
Amendment 77 had many supporters. Unsurprisingly, large gambling companies were among its most strident supporters. They donated $3.1 million to Local Choice Colorado, a PAC supporting Amendment 77 that raised $4 million. The big gambling companies really wanted this to pass. However, Local Choice Colorado consistently emphasized the local control angle, too:
“[Locals] are the ones who are most impacted hands down by anything,” Local Choice Colorado advocate Karen Crummy says. “And so it just seems to be that if they want to do something to spur local economic activity, then they should be allowed to do so. Because they’re the ones who are going to live with it.”
Arguments in favor of Amendment 77 include hopes for additional jobs and tax revenue. New games would require more dealers, and potentially more pit bosses. However, higher wagers could also result in higher casino revenues and higher tax revenues for Colorado. Colorado has put these decisions in the hands of the casino city residents, so they can weigh the pros and cons that will disproportionately affect them.
Opposition To Amendment 77
Despite a lack of public and organized opposition, two-fifths of Coloradans don’t favor local control of casinos. Some of them likely want to have a say in Colorado’s only casinos. The 1990 bill that introduced casinos also limited them to the three casino cities–and also passed with about 57% of the vote. Some bettors may feel uneasy about putting betting limits and casino games into the hands of a few thousand Coloradans. No one else will have a say in how they’re run.
However, additional opposition comes from a dislike of gambling. The Centennial Institute captures this brand of opposition in their 2020 ballot guide:
“Gambling harms families and [Amendment 77] expands gambling.”
By itself, this is inaccurate. Problem gambling certainly harms families. But most gambling is not problem gambling. It’s largely recreational and does not lead to financial ruin. Amendment 77 also doesn’t expand gambling. It only gives casino city residents the option to vote on certain modifications to their casinos. The Centennial Institute also hasn’t weighed in on the local control issue. Their position revolves around their perception of gambling as immoral and its possible impact on Colorado’s families.
How Will Amendment 77 Affect Colorado Casinos?
The first is Keno. It’s appealing to casinos because it has such a high house advantage. It would generate new revenue for casinos and likely would increase tax revenues for the casino cities and Colorado.
The second is baccarat, which attracts high rollers and large wagers. However, baccarat is a double-edged sword. Its house advantage is low, but wagers can be staggeringly high. It’s a potential revenue driver for casinos. However, casinos will likely have to increase the amount of cash they have on reserve to pay winners. Introducing baccarat may not increase tax revenues on its own. However, attracting high rollers to the other casino games and hotel amenities may. Casino city voters will have to decide whether they want to introduce either game in their casinos.
The Outlook For Colorado’s Casino Cities
Casino city voters will likely vote in favor of proposals that make their local casinos more competitive. The casinos are staples of their local economies, and they’re crucial to the cities they do business in. Residents benefit from their casinos’ infrastructure investments, and now they have a stronger voice in regulating these influential businesses.
Opponents will continue to try thwarting any gaming expansion, legislation, or policy. But based on past votes, Colorado is amenable to different types of gambling. Anti-gambling groups will find it difficult to dissuade Coloradans on a straight gambling bill. Opponents’ best chance lies in obfuscating the meaning of an ambiguously worded and confusing bill. Clear gambling ballot measures consistently pass by seven to ten points.
Although they still have to overcome the pandemic’s challenges, Colorado’s casinos seem to have a bright future ahead of them. Amendment 77 handed casinos a base of bettors who likely favor any policies that make their casinos competitive. As casino city residents deliberate new regulatory measures, they will shape the face of gambling in Colorado and tourism in their small towns and across the Centennial State.