Formerly a breeding ground for illegal gaming in the best/worst traditions of the good/bad ol’ Wild West straight through the mobster’s heyday in the 1920s and 30s, today’s gambling industry in Colorado is purely on the up-and-up. In fact, for decades before the state had legalized marijuana, casinos, and their related hotels and resorts were bringing some much-wanted tax revenue and tourist dollars into former mining communities such as Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Population: 5.457 million (2015 est.)
Area: 104,094 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 42
• In 1975, voters decided *not* to host the 1976 Winter Olympics by a margin of 62%-38% in a public referendum.
• The federal government owns nearly 34% of all land in Colorado; another 4% is Native American reservation land.
• The Western Stock Rodeo, the world’s largest rodeo competition, is held in Denver annually.
• In Colorado, riding a horse while intoxicated is illegal.
As part of the traditional “Wild West,” casino gambling in Colorado – especially Denver – remained a bit shaky, legally speaking, right through to the 1990s.
Most historians believe that the very first place to be called a “saloon” and to feature gambling was a spot called Brown’s Saloon in a pit stop called Brown’s Hole. You know what they say about location, location, location? Brown’s Hole couldn’t have been better situated to entertain with alcohol, card games and, um, female companionship, thanks to its location on the border of the Wyoming, Utah and Colorado Territories. From 1822, Brown’s Saloon was an easy stop between many destination point, particularly for fur traders. These folks would be supplemented and/or replaced over the next half-century by miners when the mining boom hit Colorado.
In 1876, however, Colorado was incorporated into the Union as a state. This meant a cracking down on gambling in Colorado – at least to the letter of the law. While illegal gambling certainly continued in much of the still-untamed state didn’t get really crazy until the Roaring Twenties…
When Prohibition came to the United States in 1920, Colorado became a hotbed for hooch-running and mob activity. Pete and Sam Carlino had amassed control of all illegal alcohol supply in southern Colorado and looked to subsume control of the state’s black-market industry. The Carlinos would both by iced by 1931 and most other players jailed, Joseph Roma and what would become known as the “Smaldone Crime Family” or simply the “Colorado Crime Family” took over. The Smaldone Family would go on to run a number of criminal activities in Colorado and. Clarence Smaldone, the last classic head of the family, was jailed in 1983 and released in ’91, but the last “family” members involved in criminal activity went down in ‘92 for supplying illegal gambling and sportsbook operations.
In the meantime, gambling law in the U.S. had evolved with the Indian Gambling Regulation Act (IGRA) in 1988. Change in Colorado gambling law came soon thereafter – and the Colorado state government avoiding the sort of highly sticky situation Arizona faced in the 1990s – with passage of the Colorado Limited Stakes Gambling Initiative in ’90. Casinos on Native American land, including the sizable area of the Navajo Nation, were free to open.
Colorado essential has three epicenters for gaming action, with all but a handful of the state’s gaming houses located in Black Hawk (hosting an incredible 17 casinos), Central City (eight casinos) and Cripple Creek (15 casinos) – all three sparsely-populated former mining towns who have found a nice niche in the 21st-century economy.
Black Hawk, 40 miles west of Denver, touts itself as the single biggest success story within Colorado casino gambling. According to their statistics, some $900 million has been invested in the city in direct relation to the casino industry, and Black Hawk contributes some $91 annually to state government coffers through casino revenues. The town is credited with generating some 70% of Colorado’s entire gaming revenue
For casinos, as is the case throughout the U.S. at Native American-operated casinos, the legal age for gambling in 21. In the state lottery or for pari-mutuel betting at Arapahoe Park Race Track in Denver, the magic number is 18.
Now here’s a tale from the Old West for y’all…
A guy going by the sobriquet “Soapy Smith” made quite a name for himself at saloons in a few Colorado towns in the 1870s through the 90s and though he porfessionally engaged in games of chance, he wasn’t really gambling.
Soapy learned both that he had a talent for gambling and that he could work the system to his favor at about age 16. Then herding cattle in Texas and Kansas, he discovered that he was quite good at card games and thus looked for gambling spots to make real money. His first stop was in Leadville, Colorado. He soon learned how to manipulate the shell game and take lots of folks
Moving on to Denver in 1881 or so, he operating a snake-oil salesman-type con selling soap, but he eventually opened his own place, the Tivoli Saloon and Gambling Hall. Ten years later, to make a quick buck, he brought some partners to Creede to work over silver miners there.
Interestingly enough, Smith apparently conned his way up to an informal mayorship, getting a railroad line run through Creede as well as incorporation by the state – though Smith would again depart in 1891 to again take over the Tivoli. And Smith was hardly finished stirring up matters: In 1894, Smith was involved in a hostile takeover of City Hall in an incident rather overblowingly referred to as the “City Hall War.”
Smith did not die at barrel’s end of a U.S. Army soldier, however; instead, he was shot to death at the age of 38 after winning some $2,700 from a miner, who was none too pleased at the game’s outcome…
Gambling at casinos on Indian reservation land is approved by state law, as is pari-mutuel betting at the horse track in Denver. Anyone over the age of 18 may play the state lottery as well.
In one of the country’s already most socially progressive states, it’s hard to belief any rollback of gambling law in Colorado will occur, nor is much greater expansion very possible.
As a mark of confidence that the future of gambling in Colorado is secure, Black Hawk is planning a new a new 500-room hotel and casino (scheduled for a tentative 2019 opening), which is said to be the most expensive casino expansion in the history of gambling in Colorado…