Colorado has a long ballot this election season. However, two of the measures on the ballot are new gaming regulations. The critical one for Coloradans is Amendment 77. Right now, if one of the gaming cities wants to change their casino laws, the whole state of Colorado has to vote on it. But Amendment 77 would let Black Hawk, Cripple Creek, and Central City citizens vote for their own casino law changes. It puts local businesses under local control.
Local Choice Colorado has been spearheading the effort to get Coloradans to vote for Amendment 77. We spoke to Karen Crummy to understand why Local Choice Colorado supports it and says it’s important for every Coloradan.
What Amendment 77 Would Do For The Gambling Towns
Coloradans will see this amendment on the ballot when they vote (vote early). But Karen Crummy, a supporter of the amendment providing public relations services on behalf of Local Choice Colorado, gave a clear outline of what its intent is for Coloradans.
“Amendment 77 gives the voters in Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek the right to approve a maximum single bet of any amount and they can also add games in addition to slot machines or poker or craps. And obviously, it doesn’t alter gaming laws and it doesn’t expand gaming anywhere. It just lets these three towns hold a local election and decide what the residents want,” said Crummy.
That could be a great deal for the gaming cities. And the long road to recovery after state-mandated pandemic closures has made this decision even more critical for Colorado’s gaming cities.
“It was important to begin with,” said Crummy. “But with the coronavirus, it’s become even more critical because …since gaming became legal in 1990…the vast majority of their budgets are based on revenue that comes from either gaming or tourism. And tourism is bound to be–I’m pretty sure–the hardest hit industry in Colorado right now because of the pandemic. And Cripple Creek for instance just cut their budget I think 20% initially. And then I just found out I think a week ago that gaming tax revenue was going to be down more than 40%.”
Where The Tax Revenue Would Go
Government employees need their paychecks and city programs need funding. Higher betting limits would increase casino revenue and, consequently, tax revenue. Additionally, the increased tax revenue resulting from higher bet limits would go towards public education.
“The tax revenue if they make changes is going to go to community colleges,” said Crummy. “For student retention and increase graduation rates. The colleges like so many other institutions right now are in dire straits themselves. They’re facing huge state funding cuts and the gaming tax revenue that they get already for financial aid is really kind of drying up because of the pandemic.”
The public education cuts have been dire. In May 2020, the Joint Budget Committee cut the general fund support for public colleges and universities by 58%. That’s almost $500 million that Colorado public higher education isn’t getting any more. Community colleges need the boost right now, and Amendment 77 would create a new revenue driver for them.
Is There Opposition To Amendment 77?
Despite its direct impact on only a few thousand Coloradans, Amendment 77 seems to enjoy broad support. The only organized opposition comes from the Centennial Institute, citing concerns about gambling to begin with as reasons to vote against Amendment 77. But Local Choice Colorado has a clear response to concerns about any type of gaming expansion.
“A lot of people I think feel that ship has sailed because these three towns have had gaming for 30 years,” said Crummy.
As Crummy has said, Amendment 77 won’t expand gaming by itself. It allows voters in the gaming cities to control industries that impact them disproportionately. However, we thought of two more possible objections that squirrely voters could have to Amendment 77.
Will There Be More Crime?
Gambling opponents often fear that casinos will bring more crime. Well, the casinos are already in Colorado. Would higher betting limits and new games increase crimes like drunk driving on I-70?
“I think I’d still be more concerned about people on I-70 who were having a few beers after skiing coming back,” said Crummy. “But all I can say is that they have never shown that having the casinos open has increased or has any association with an increase in drunk driving incidents on I-70 or elsewhere.”
Research is mixed about the correlation between casinos and crime. Politifact notes that the bulk of the research linking casinos and crime is dated and flawed. When organized crime was an issue in the 1990s, crime and casinos likely had a strong link. But problem gamblers are more likely to be arrested for crimes around casinos, not regular patrons. The link between drunk driving and casinos also depends on a casino town’s population. It’s probably because smaller towns don’t have public transportation options available to larger cities.
Regardless of the specific crime opponents are concerned about, links between crime and casinos stem from casinos opening. But Amendment 77 doesn’t create new casinos. It allows casino city voters to decide how to manage their cities’ casinos. There’s no data-supported reason to think Amendment 77 will increase crime in Black Hawk, Cripple Creek, Central City, or the State of Colorado as a whole.
Should Three Towns Control Colorado’s Casinos?
This sounds like a stickier question, but it comes back to local economic control. All Coloradans reap some benefit from the casinos’ state taxes. However, the locals bear most of the other impacts of casino policies.
“[Locals] are the ones who are most impacted hands down by anything. So it just seems to me 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.”
Most Coloradans can come and go from the casino towns as they please. Tourists are only in the state for a few days at a time. Whether casinos open new spas or invest in infrastructure, the locals are the ones who benefit the most. They’re the ones who should be making decisions about their communities’ largest businesses.
Are There Any New Games Coming?
“I have heard the two games that are mentioned the most are Keno and baccarat,” said Crummy.
Those are both great games for casinos. Keno has a house edge of around 27%. That’s a big revenue driver for casinos. However, baccarat only has a 1.06% house advantage. It’s a knife’s edge for casinos. But that low house advantage attracts high-rollers. However, baccarat can be risky for casinos, too. A big win can be a liability for them. It carries some risk, but it’s a massive opportunity for casinos.
“Listen, maybe [the casinos] can attract some higher-income bettors who might otherwise go to Vegas,” said Crummy. “And then maybe they could get some people who come here to vacation in Aspen or Vail or Southern Colorado. And while they’re here maybe they decide to take a day and go to one of these casinos. I don’t think [casinos] are thinking they’re going to have a bunch of people from Denver to make big bets over the weekend.”
If Amendment 77 passes, Crummy still believes tourism will drive gamblers to Colorado casinos. It makes sense. The mining towns are fun vacation spots, and casinos can be fun sources of short-term entertainment. Tourists are important sources of revenue for these towns, so the casino cities would do well to attract high-rollers.
The Bottom Line: Will Amendment 77 Pass?
Amendment 77 only needs a simple majority to pass. So, if just over half the voters want it, the three casino cities’ residents will get to make decisions about their casinos for themselves. But how confident is Local Choice Colorado that it’ll pass?
“I think it has a very good chance,” said Crummy. “I mean, we have a really long ballot. But I think people are energized to vote, and I think as long as we are able to get out the message, which we’ve been trying to do because there are so many important races going on, you have to cut through the noise. But I think if we do that it will pass.”
However, this isn’t just a vote that affects Coloradans in a few cities. Coloradans throughout the state also have a stake in this amendment passing. So, why should anyone outside of the casino cities care?
“I would say it’s twofold,” Crummy said. “One, I’m sure that people in Fort Collins don’t want Grand Junction or Alamosa deciding what they should do for their economic future. Two, there’s more money going in community colleges. And there are so many community colleges…in the entire metro area–much less the state–that any additional money that can go to help them get kids to graduate can make a huge difference.”
Every Colorado community has a vested interest in its residents achieving higher educations, and Amendment 77 asserts that every Colorado community deserves to shape its economic future.