Preparing for Las Vegas in the Rocky Mountains – Colorado Towns Increase Casino Betting Limits

Preparing for Las Vegas In the Rockies

Colorado Casinos Remove Betting Limits

Ameristar Casinos

Ameristar Casino and Spa in Black Hawk, Colorado

In November 2020 the people of Colorado approved by vote Amendment 77. It allows 3 casino cities to change betting stakes and add games at their casinos without going through the vote of the entire state.

And so casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek are allowed to increase, or remove altogether bet limits, as well as approve new casino games in their premises without requiring a constitutional change or state ballot.

Amendment 77 also discusses the allocation of tax revenues from casinos to support community colleges throughout Colorado.   

Support vs. Objection to Amendment 77

The vote was passed with more than 1.6 million votes in favor, which is just under 60%. Being a constitutional amendment of the state, Amendment 77 needed more than 50% support to pass.

People that support the measure say it will allow the residents of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to take control of their destinies and do what is best for their communities and local economy. This, while the opposition raised concerns about the removal of betting limits causing a spike in gambling-related problems and addiction.

Bruce Brown, one of the supporters of Amendment 77 said in a statement: “We appreciate that Coloradans supported our town’s right to determine our future so we can improve economic opportunities for the people who live and work here.” Brown, who is also former mayor of Cripple Creek added: “Things won’t change overnight, but I believe this will help us get back on our feet.”

Putting Colorado on an Even Playing Field with Other Gambling States

Colorado previously had a betting cap of $100 which was mandated in the state’s constitution. It also powered the state to approve new games, on the condition that the games are approved by Colorado’s Limited Gaming Control Commission. Bet limits only existed in Colorado and in South Dakota (with much higher limits). So these changes now put the Mountain state on a more even playing field with other states in the country that allow legal gambling.

The Cities Starting to Make Changes

On December 1, 2020 Black Hawk City Council already voted to approve uncapped single-bet wagers and allowing casinos in the city to add to their halls tables offering baccarat, keno, pai gow poker and a few other games pending state rules. The changes will come into effect by May 1 as stated in Amendment 77. As a city official said to the press: “Soon, Coloradans won’t have to hop on a plane to satisfy their appetite for Las Vegas-style gaming.”

Public officials in Central City and Cripple Crick soon followed the steps of Black Hawk and are now also passing their own measures to introduce new games and lift bet limits. Some elected officials and casino industry captains are trying to manage expectations on how much of an impact Amendment 77 will have on these cities and communities.

Sean Demeule, GM of one of Colorado’s biggest casinos, Ameristar Casino Resort and Spa in Black Hawk, said: “This is not a game changer for us. When I say it’s not a game changer I mean I don’t expect it to grow revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It just allows us to have some parity with neighboring states.”

Advantages to Amendment 77

This isn’t the first time casinos in the state are making changes, but in 2008 it required to pass Amendment 50 to the state’s constitution to increase bet limits in Colorado casinos from $5 to the current $100. And also add roulette and craps to the list of permitted games, as well as allow casinos to stay open 24 hours.

One game for example that casinos are looking to add soon is Baccarat. This fast-paced, two-card game which was an iconic James Bond favorite should be one of first games Colorado casinos will add to their floors. But the addition is still pending the gaming commission’s approval which will be considered along a list of new games at an upcoming meeting.

Demeule, who is also the Secretary-Treasurer of the Colorado Gaming Association pointed the advantages of not having to vote and change the state’s constitution every time casinos want to make a change or add a game: “To allow the local government and the local voters to kind of control the offerings allows us to react to industry trends more quickly and allows us to offer games that are available in other casinos around the country.”

Catering to High Rollers and Others

Unlimited betting amounts are still going to be limited by how much an average player will be willing to risk. Lifting the bet limits doesn’t mean $5,000-a-hand blackjack tables are going pop up in every casino and replace the $25-a-hand games.

Ameristar, the casino that Demeule manages is owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. It owns and operates gambling properties in more than 20 states across the country. Demeule said that while most people don’t gamble at levels reserved for high-rollers, also known as “whales” in casino jargon, he is confident that these high-stakes Penn clients around the country will now consider Colorado. Whereas bet limits may have kept them away before. “We have a great product here in Colorado,” Demeule said.

Amendment 77 as an Economic Development Tool

Jeremey Fey, the Mayor of Central City, says that gross wagers will rise and these extra profits will bring in his opinion key benefits for his community. Currently over 60% of the town’s commercial property is vacant. Fey supported the legislation as a tool for economic development. After a recent sale of an historic building that sat empty for decades, he felt the time for change is right and the future is bright.

Central City and Black Hawk are right next to each other, but they took very different strategies to being casino towns. According to Fey, casino operators are limited to development of up to 4 stories in Central City. But Black Hawk is home to Ameristar Tower which has 536 hotel rooms. It is also home to the Monarch Casino Resort Spa and a few other big-name properties that are expanding in Black Hawk.

Fey said jokingly: “I never thought that some of our mom-and-pop casinos will be hosting the whales of America. They’re welcome here. I’ll have them over for dinner. But (Amendment 77) was more important in enticing new operators to the market. I’m not sure the average person walking the street anticipated that effect, but I’m optimistic about those effects.”

Colorado Considers “Vegas Style” Gaming

Gilpin County is home to both Black Hawk and Central City. Outgoing Gilpin County Commissioner, Ron Engels says that “Vegas Style” gaming will appeal to many people in the state, especially in Colorado metro areas.

Engels said to the press: “Denver is the second-largest feeder market for Las Vegas and the (casino) operators who are going to be extending their limit or removing them are certainly hoping some of those people stay here. But we’re are also hoping that people will make this a primary destination as well, coming from elsewhere in the country to visit our mountain community.”

He is still concerned of the negative effect on the local community if the county becomes a huge tourist attraction. Engels gave an example that before Black Hawk and Central City became gambling towns, the county had a 4-room jail. As of last month, Gilpin County Justice Center was housing close to 80 inmates. And he also said that 85% of all jail activity was “gaming-related”.

“If (Amendment 77) adds impacts there, we might be at a $10 to $15 million expansion to our justice center,” Engels estimated. But he still hopes that the negatives will not outweigh the benefits. He and other Gilpin County officials “understand very clearly that it will improve our finances. Our portion of the tax distribution will be increasing as the market grows.”

The supporters of Amendment 77 are looking for the increased money it will bring into the economy, probably through the increased visitors, real estate, hotels and all the other indirect profits. Still, Amendment 77 stays in line with Colorado’s existing state gambling laws that dedicate 78% of all tax revenue to state community colleges.

Preparing for Amendment 77 to Take Effect

Amendment 77 will come into effect in May. Until then, the state has to go through some rulemaking. Suzanne Karrer, Colorado’s Department of Revenue Spokeswoman, said that most of the work has to do with changing language and articles, and removing references to the state rules of $100 which will no longer be valid. But she also states that “it won’t be a total free-for-all.” Dan Hartman, Director of the Colorado Division of Gaming also reiterated that “New games must be submitted to the commission for approval.”

What Will Happen Next

It’s hard to predict what will be the status of the Coronavirus pandemic by the time Amendment 77 comes into effect in May. Colorado moved to Orange Level, which allows casinos to host people indoors and in their restaurants. Until recently however, Gilpin County was still enforcing its own rules and keeping all table games shut.

But even with vaccines being rolled out and betting limits being removed, Demeule and others aren’t counting on Amendment 77 to compensate for all the damage and loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. “I don’t know that we’ll ever make back fully what we lost in 2020,” Demeule said.

Still, the analysis of Amendment 77 in Colorado’s 2020 voter guide said it “will likely increase state and local revenue.” But it made no mention of Amendment 50 from 2008 resulting a $10 million increase in yearly gambling tax income. So there are definitely high hopes for Amendment 77.

Betting Online In Colorado

Some more good news on Colorado gambling is that in November 2019 Colorado voted to legalize sports betting, and on May 2020 the state’s first sports betting apps and websites went live. If you are over 21 and within Colorado state limits, you can use your mobile device or computer to bet online. It’s safe, secure and 100% legal.

So don’t wait, sign up today to one of Colorado’s state-regulated sports betting apps and claim a great bonus!

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