The maximum bet you can place at any Colorado casino has been capped at $100 since 2008, but a group of state residents hopes to remove betting limits entirely this November through a plan called Initiative 257.
Under the proposal, which Colorado residents will vote on, each town would have the ability to either set their own limits or lift restrictions entirely. That last part is critical to point out. November’s vote doesn’t actually change anything on its own. It simply would give towns the right to raise the limits above $100 if they want and add some new games.
Traditionally, Colorado has had the heaviest restrictions in the nation when it comes to gaming. Before 2008, there was a $5 limit on individual bets. Then Initiative 50 passed. It gave casinos the right to extend hours and add new games, while also raising the limit from $5 to $100. As it stands, out of 23 states where gambling is legal, only two have any types of restrictions. The first is Colorado at $100. The second is South Dakota, where Deadwood casinos have a $1,000 individual bet limit. The argument from supporters of Initiative 257 is that in order for Colorado to compete, especially in a post COVID-19 environment, towns need the ability to lift the limit. Casinos without betting limits often attract professional bettors, potentially increasing both the casino’s revenue and state tax contributions.
Moving Forward Despite The Virus
In order to get Initiative 257 on the ballot, the group called Local Choice Colorado had to get 124,632 valid signatures by the beginning of August. By July 29, they turned in almost double that amount, bringing in more than 200,000. Support came in from multiple areas. Local lawmakers in Teller and Gilpin counties passed resolutions this spring to endorse the proposal, from the county level to the individual towns. For Gilpin, COVID-19 caused significant problems. Speaking to the county board on April 16, Gilpin County Manager Abel Montoya projected the area would lose 50 percent of expected yearly revenue. He outlined this again in May and June meetings. That’s one of the reasons the county supported Initiative 257. They hope removing betting limits will act as a draw for professional bettors, filling up hotels, restaurants and casinos next year.
That’s one of the keys here. Colorado Sharp reached out to officials in counties that would be affected by this proposal. Some spoke off the record, others provided statements. All of them said this isn’t something they were looking for as a quick fix. After all, even if the bill passes in November, that’s not the end. After the vote, counties then have to decide what the limits, if any, will be. Those choices will then take effect on May 21, 2021. While they’ve accepted this is going to be a rough year due to the shutdown, the counties hope Initiative 257 can offer a type of ongoing stimulus package long-term.
Is There Support to Remove Betting Limits?
The same goes for Colorado casinos.
“We would like to see Initiative 257 pass,” said Eric Rose from Century Casino. Rose pointed out, however, that Century was not part of the campaign.
The same was true for each of the casinos Colorado Sharp reached out to. All of them said they supported the proposal, but made it clear they were not involved in the campaign. Casinos see a benefit not just in the potential for larger bets, but also for additional games. If the bill passes, it would let casinos add games like baccarat and Keno. That means more games on the floor and the potential for increased revenue.
Education officials also wonder how this plays out. As part of the proposal, new revenue from casinos would go to community colleges across the state. As we mentioned before, typically gaming funds in Colorado are split between help for gambling addicts, a hold harmless fund for traditional gaming and money for the state’s water projects. This changes things a bit, providing extra money for a community college system that’s dealing with struggles of its own thanks to COVID-19.
“In these unprecedented times of historic unemployment and economic devastation, this measure provides a potential life preserver for these towns and added revenue for struggling community colleges,” said Karen Crummy. Karen serves as a spokesperson for Local Choice Colorado.
She added that the virus had changed some of the group’s plans. Understandably, there will be no in-person town hall meetings leading up to the vote. Instead, Crummy said the group will work to answer questions and present information digitally.
“The coronavirus does present a unique challenge, but Coloradans are typically engaged and informed voters,” Crummy said. “We believe we can provide them with the information they need.”
Where Does Initiative 257 Money Go?
One of the arguments against Initiative 257 comes from a report by the state’s Legislative Council Staff. On the one hand, the report said state revenue will increase if bet limits rise.
“If bet limits increase, taxable casino revenue will increase, thereby increasing state gaming tax collections,” the report said. “State revenue may also increase if voters allow new games in the casinos that attract more bettors or higher bets.”
At the same time, higher rewards also bring higher risks. The report cautioned that the opportunity to place larger bets could cause problems.
“This measure may increase gambling losses for Coloradans or others who choose to bet additional money on games,” the report states. “Gamblers will have less money available to save or spend in other sectors of the economy and may incur new debts as a result.”
Right now, the state sets aside $130,000 each year from gambling revenue to pay for gambling addiction services. That includes a gambling crisis hotline and gambling addiction counselors. If Initiative 257 passes, however, that amount won’t increase.
Initiative 257 will be on the ballot in Colorado this November.