|By Andrew Wineke, The Gazette, Colorado
Springs, Colo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 17, 2008 - Cripple Creek voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the changes to the gambling laws made possible by Amendment 50.
The measure passed 267-13 -- a 95 percent approval margin.
"Are you kidding me? Only 13 'noes'?" Cripple Creek Mayor Dan Baader said. "It was excellent and as we hoped. Everybody's looking for very good things to happen."
Cripple Creek city administrator Bill McPherson said turnout was high in the tiny mountain town, with most voters casting ballots.
"This is a little town, but it's a big deal," he said. "We're very pleased with the turnout."
The outcome of the vote in this gambling-dependent town was never really in doubt, but in the final weeks of the city's worst year since gaming was legalized in 1991, it provides a ray of hope.
"This is kind of our light at the end of the tunnel," said Mike Hirsch, general manager at the Gold Rush Hotel and Casino.
Baader said the town was taking no chances with the vote. He helped organize a phone bank last week to remind residents to show up at City Hall and vote.
"People thought they already voted 'yes' on it in November," Baader said.
Amendment 50, which Colorado voters approved Nov. 4, allowed the state's three gambling towns to hold their own elections to increase betting limits, expand hours and add new table games. Cripple Creek is the first of the towns to vote; Black Hawk will hold its vote Jan. 13 and Central City will follow Jan. 20.
The amendment allows the towns to raise betting limits from $5 to $100, add games like roulette and craps to the mix and expand casino operations to 24 hours a day. Most of the additional tax revenue from the changes is dedicated to the state's community college system.
Deadwood, S.D., made similar changes to its gaming laws and saw roughly 10 percent increases in revenue, said Kevin Werner, general manager of the Wildwood Casino.
That's a nice shot in the arm, he said, but statewide casino revenue is off 11.7 percent for the year.
"It's certainly not the silver bullet," Werner said. "It will get us close to where we were a year ago, which is certainly positive."
Werner, in fact, was so positive about Tuesday's vote that he had a set of roulette and craps tables delivered last week. He plans to install them in January and begin training his staff - and customers -- in the new games long before the law takes effect July 2.
Gaming revenue in Colorado has been down every month this year. A statewide smoking ban was extended to casinos in January. That, combined with high gas prices, was blamed for the initial months of losses, although now the economic recession may play a bigger role, Baader said.
"If the economy keeps tanking, who knows what's going to happen?" he said.
One Cripple Creek casino, the Wild Horse, closed its doors at the end of October, putting 62 employees out of work. Other casino managers say they will hold on in hopes of better times ahead.
"I think it will be an immediate shot in the arm in July," Hirsch said.
Eventually, the new rules could make Cripple Creek more of a destination, leading to new hotels, businesses and more casinos.
Gary Ledford, a city councilman who runs the Carr Manor hotel in Cripple Creek, said the low limits turn many gamblers away.
"We have a lot of guests who come here who say, '$5 doesn't excite me very much,'" Ledford said.
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Copyright (c) 2008, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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