Gaming Towns Facing Major Threats From Illegal Cafes and Businesses

Legislative Counter-attack Sought By Cripple Creek Head Lobbyist

Rick Langenberg

The Cripple  Creek gaming community is under attack from a new foe: Internet cafes and other small business hangouts with a variety of nicknames that are featuring illegal games of chance, and cropping up daily in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and other nearby locales.

In many cases, these operators are disguised as businesses other than gaming. But in reality, they are illegal casinos, and are snagging money that should be going to legal operators in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk.

As a result, the city needs to take a strong legislative and legal stance regarding this issue. Ultimately, the city may consider launching a legislative counter-attack and garner more support from the gaming commission to fully outline “what is legal and what is illegal” throughout the state’s gambling arena. This may require more legislation, but time is not on the side of local gaming operators, whose livelihood is at stake with the current trend.

This warning was issued last week loud and clear by Solomon Malick, the city’s head lobbyist, who serves as president of Peak Government Affairs. He warned the city council last week about a growing crisis surrounding illegal operators who are running “internet cafes” and other enterprises that feature actual games of chance. In fact, according to some reports, the number of illegal gaming devices in  Colorado Springs, now exceeds the actual legal betting games in Cripple Creek. “These businesses are circumventing the (gambling) state statute,” blasted Malick. “You can’t have legal games of chance outside of the three gaming cities.

Malick described the current “illegal gaming” trend as troublesome  “It is a sad situation,” said the lobbyist, who addressed the council regarding the top issues they face at the state capitol.

Topping the list was what Malick described as “Internet Cafes,” under disguise. “They are setting up illegal operations,” said the lobbyist. “The state has to stop issuing them licenses.”

Malick believes this trend exploded, following the end of the COVID-19 epidemic, when state regulators wanted to see business return to Colorado, and often looked the other way regarding certain regulations. “There was so much goodwill following COVID-19,” said Malick.

In fact, Malick was informed of this potential problem about a year ago. At the time, he appeared somewhat skeptical of these reports, but now contends that the industry is under a full-fledged attack from illegal operators.  “Our concerns are valid,” said Malick.

In fact, he said these reports were backed up by local casino operators, who actually visited these rogue gaming operations in Colorado Springs. The problem with Internet Cafes and other businesses running illegal games is quite evident in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, noted Malick.  Surprisingly, the problem is not that big in Denver.

The Creek lobbyist also admits these operators are quite shrewd and know how to get around the law. As a result, Malick contends that  new legislation is needed that provides more teeth against violators of the gambling amendment, approved originally in 1991.

Malick says this  has turned into a big problem area for the gaming industry, which has invested millions into doing their operations the proper and legal way

Ultimately, Malick says a legislative solution must get pursued to crack down against illicit machines and illegal  operators.

Malick didn’t get any arguments from the council, who have heard about this problem for months from local gaming operators. Councilman Jared Bowman even wondered if this could have impacted the industry’s monthly AGP report and served as a reason why revenue is so low this year.

Finance Director Paul Harris, who regularly tracks these numbers, said that type of conclusion could not be  made. But Harris conceded that the impacts surrounding these  illicit operators is growing, with the number of illegal gambling games in Colorado Springs now exceeding Cripple Creek’s legal games of chance.

As far as other big legislative issues, Malick cited the voter decision over Proposition HH, the tax relief package endorsed by Governor Jared Polis and other Democratic leaders. He said this  measure, which requires a majority vote, is ahead in current polling, with a level of support hovering around the 55 percent mark.

He was told by Harris that the city plans to issue a resolution against Prop. HH.  The Teller County commissioners have already taken this action, and a number of other elected leaders in the area have opposed the proposition.

Malick said there is still time to reverse the current support level of Prop. HH.

At the same time, he made it clear that Democratic leaders and progressive policies have achieved growing influence at the state level.

The lobbyist reminded the council that the Democrats have completely seized control of the Colorado general assembly, with a 46 to 19 seat advantage in the House and a 23 to 12 advantage in the Senate, along with controlling the executive branch.

In fact, he said the  Democrats are only a seat or two away from obtaining a super-majority.  If they reach this level of support, the majority party could suspend rules and do a number of procedures to enhance their agenda.

He stated that the city has adopted a non-partisan approach towards state issues, and has sought to work with leaders of both parties.