I’m not a fan of gambling, even though I understand it very well. The road to good isn’t paved in vice, I believe that.
I used to cover the industry and wrote a weekly column about how casinos operate, until my cynicism drove me out of it. I wasn’t a good business writer, frankly. I found the guy betting the power bill to try to win the rent vastly more interesting than the parent company’s holdings and margins.
Are casinos fun? You bet. Are the buffets delicious? More crab legs, please. Some of the best memories of my life have been set to the dings of dopamine from a vast floor of slot machines.
Yet, I have no doubt they’re a bad deal, these glittering monuments built by losers that every player will eventually become, if they play long enough.
It’s an extraction science that makes you think you're winning even as your wallet empties.
The house manager can calculate how much the joint will profit based on how long he can keep you in a game. Time is money, and those free drinks are anything but free.
If you manage to get on an especially hot streak, the casino will shut down your lucky behind, before you gig their kitty too deeply. They don’t have to prove you’re cheating. Casinos have a right to deny service. They only care that you're winning consistently, against the odds.
I covered a case in 2001 that laid it bare. A lawyer from out of town lost $30,000 one weekend, and the casino in question did everything it could to get him back to lose more. He took them up on the free flight, free room and free meals. Yet, when he’d won back about $10,000, they gave him one more gift: the heave-ho.
He took the case to the state gaming commission. Nobody showed him the door when he was losing, he pleaded. He lost again. In 2014 a Florida woman thought she won a Range Rover when the key worked. The casino, however, said she jiggled the key to get it in and offered her a $500 credit to bet on other games, instead.
There’s one inviolable rule in gambling: The house always wins, at least eventually.
I say all that to say that such games look like the best bet Colorado has to address critical needs post-pandemic.
In November, Colorado voters are likely to decide on Initiative 257, which would allow locals in the state's gambling towns — Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk — to vote on raising the state's $100 betting limit or adding more games, such as Keno.
More and bigger games, however, would make the state's gambling destinations more competitive with those in other states, and even if the extra revenue marked for community colleges doesn't add up to much, the benefits from extra tourism helps pay a lot of bills for local and state government.
“We’ve built most of our economies around hotels, restaurants, tourism and travelers who visit because of gaming," said Bruce Brown, Cripple Creek's former mayor. "Voters in our communities should be allowed to decide what is best for them and their economy, including whether they want to change betting limits and add new games.”
Bill Cadman, the former state Senate president from Colorado Springs and my friend, said it's “a win-win for businesses and employees in these small towns, as well the community colleges that will receive more tax money."
Moreover, passing taxes statewide has proven too heavy a lift, no matter how worthy the cause, unless people want to pay.
You’ll rarely hear a cannabis user complain about the 33% paid on taxes from seed to buzz, unless he thought you said tacos. The price remains lower than in the lawless days of getting high, minus a potential encounter with cops.
Voters last November passed Proposition DD to allow licensed casinos to offer online sports books starting May 1 to raise money for the state water plan.
Against all odds, the first two months of operation weren’t bad, according to the gambling website PlayColorado. The games generated $38.1 million in bets in June, up 49% from May.
The tax man didn't do badly, either: about $96,000 in May and $217,000 in June.
Sports betting was forecast pre-pandemic to grow to as much as $15.2 million annually when it matures in 2022.
With baseball and basketball on the sidelines, gamblers opted for such games as table tennis, which drew $9.1 million in bets in June, up from $6.6 million in May.
That’s the other inviolable rule in gaming: Players gonna play.
"Sports books have clearly done a great job of marketing events and matches of less common sports to promote engagement, in lieu of major events, as evidenced by the volume of betting on table tennis,” said Max Bichsel, the vice president of U.S. business for the Gambling.com Group.
Players pay, as well, which is more than you can say about Coloradans when it comes to ponying up for roads, schools and public health care.
Willie Sutton robbed banks because he said that’s where the money was. The farther the state falls behind in funding the basic demands of growth, the more Colorado looks like the original Slick Willie.