Colorado’s Charitable Gambling Laws Need Reform

Written By Jarrett Huff on 01/25/2023
Colorado gambling law as it relates to bingo should be updated

The Colorado gambling law that legalized bingo and raffles in the state constitution dates back to 1958. And the games aren’t doing well because of it.

Colorado’s charitable gambling laws are in serious need of an update. As it stands, they impede the scope of what many of the state’s nonprofit organizations can achieve. They are the only organizations allowed to have bingo operator licenses in Colorado.

In a state that once had 49 bingo halls, only 14 remain. And as the number of consistent and returning players dwindles, the money for nonprofit organizations decreases.

Antiquated Colorado bingo rules hurt nonprofits

One nonprofit, the Chelsea Hutchison Foundation often hosts bingo games twice a week to raise money. The foundation believe the rules in the state constitution limit its ability to raise money.

The foundation has come up with a few ideas to increase turnout at their events. In a article, Julie Hutchison, president of the foundation, said:

“A player will make a recommendation on the game and we’ll be all excited about it. Then I’ll call the Secretary of State and they go, ‘Oh, that’s not allowed in Colorado.’ And there’s no real reason why it’s not. There’s no reason other than it’s not in our rules, but changing the rules is an act of God, practically.”

One way the Chelsea Hutchison Foundation wanted to increase turnout at their bingo nights was through a raffle. Anyone who bought a raffle ticket could pick a number on a bingo card and receive $5 to win.

However, the Secretary of State put an end to it. Winning the $5 technically falls under the second-chance drawing part of the rules. And Colorado gambling does not allow it from its interpretation of the “Bingo-Raffles Law Handbook.”

The state constitution also doesn’t allow organizations to pay volunteers at bingo games. Some volunteers at the Chelsea Hutchison Foundation’s game nights include people with seizure disorders.

Hutchison mentions on that many of those volunteers can’t hold jobs due to their health:

“It would be life-changing for them to be able to be compensated in some manner, to give them the purpose of a job and restore that responsibility in a really, really safe environment for them.”

That could’ve changed if Amendment F had passed in November – along with a lot of other changes to how bingo can be conducted in the state.

CO’s Amendment F put organizations against one another

The Colorado Bingo-Raffle Advisory Board pushed for Amendment F to change the constitution. They hoped it would allow bingo to compete with the threat casinos bring to the game.

In 2024, there would have been a vote to determine if a change were necessary. The amendment would have:

  • Reduced the amount of time to 3 years required by an organization to be a registered nonprofit before applying for a license. It currently takes five.
  • Allow operators and managers of charity events to receive payment
  • Paid volunteer workers at charity events minimum wage until 2024

As of now, organizations cannot compensate volunteers in any way beyond a $10 lunch.

Amendment F faced heavy opposition from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They contended that out-of-state companies would take advantage of the amendment. And profit off of the people of Colorado, pushing smaller local bingo operators out.

Bruce Dolan, the state adjutant and quartermaster for the VFW Department of Colorado, says the amendment would’ve hurt the VFW.

They also host many charitable gaming nights. Dolan stated:

“You get outside entities coming into the state, and they start having bigger and bigger prizes than any of the nonprofits could afford to match.”

The Colorado Charitable Bingo Association (CCBA) completely disagrees. The Colorado Secretary of State would still have to approve outside organizations applying for licenses. Corky Kyle, vice president of the CCBA, said:

“They still have to be vetted by the Colorado Secretary of State. They have to get a license. There are rules and regulations and oversight on all those people. That was a red herring. It makes no sense whatsoever.”

It’s time to update Colorado gambling laws

It’s 2023, and gaming has become part of everyday life in Colorado and many parts of our country. Bingo is a form of gaming, yet Colorado separates it from casinos and sportsbooks in how it can operate. A restriction by laws from 65 years ago.

Colorado needs a modernization of how bingo and raffle charity events can operate if bingo halls are to remain. The proposed changes to the constitution from Amendment F have to happen soon. And, the legislature should be able to control changes made to bingo and raffle laws like with Colorado sports betting.

These nonprofit organizations can do a lot of good for the people of Colorado. Especially with an expansion of what they can do to operate game nights.

Photo by PlayColorado
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Jarrett Huff

Jarrett Huff is a former sports editor at Northern Star Media from Wonder Lake, IL. Friends and family will tell you he's an NBA history nerd with a diehard passion for the Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs.

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