Expanded gambling revenue lower than expected

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Colorado gambling tax revenue is up one year after casinos started expanding their hours, games and betting limits under a new law. But it’s not up as much as expected.

Since July 2009, Colorado’s three mountain gambling towns have allowed casinos to stay open 24 hours, add craps and roulette, and raise betting limits from $5 to $100 under voter-approved Amendment 50.

State legislative economists estimate gambling tax revenues were $108.7 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, thanks to the amendment and an improving economy. That’s up from an eight-year low of $94.9 million the year before, when the recession and high gas prices kept people from driving as much to the gambling towns of Central City, Cripple Creek and Black Hawk.

State legislative economists say Amendment 50 generated an estimated $9.4 million of the increase, far below the $30.6 million in extra revenue that they predicted a year ago.

“We’re still recovering from the effects of the casinowide smoking ban that went into effect in January 2008,” Colorado Gaming Association Executive Director Lois Rice said Friday.

Nevertheless, Dan Baader, who was mayor of Cripple Creek until May 5, said the higher betting limits helped Cripple Creek casinos keep revenue steady during a weaker economy.

“If it would’ve stayed at $5, I think half the casinos would be gone,” he said.

Legislative economists forecast gambling tax revenue will reach $115.2 million in fiscal 2010-2011, which would top the record of $112 million in fiscal 2006-2007.

Amendment 50 generated an estimated $7.4 million for community colleges in the latest fiscal year and $2 million for counties and cities that host casinos, legislative economists said. The amount raised for community colleges in the next fiscal year is projected to be $10.2 million.

“We believe over time, when the economy recovers and the market comes back that we will see a significant benefit for the community college system,” Rice said.

In Black Hawk, Ameristar Casino Resort Spa Black Hawk has seen business rise since it opened a hotel last fall, but Amendment 50 also has helped, general manager Reggie Fullwood said.

“We have seen a different segment of guest,” Fullwood said. “They’re table-game-centric players that are accustomed to playing different jurisdictions like Las Vegas. They can get the same experience closer to home.”

Central City Mayor Ron Slinger estimated last year that Amendment 50 had added 200 to 250 jobs in his town as casinos added staff. He wasn’t immediately available for comment Friday.

Most gambling tax revenue goes to the state’s general fund and economic development programs, a state historical fund, gambling communities and community colleges. After administrative expenses in fiscal 2009-2010, recipients were getting an estimated $102.9 million in distributions, legislative economists said in a report in June.