The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office says all the “gray casinos” in the Grand Junction area are no longer operational. As of Oct. 19, the final five illegal gambling establishments have been shuttered, authorities say. Some closed voluntarily after being contacted by law enforcement, while others ceased operations after search warrants were served.
Gaming facilities housing slots-like machines began popping up in and around Grand Junction in 2017. A year later, lawmakers amended state law to make these so-called “gray machines” illegal. Even so, several businesses continued to operate them, finding creative ways to supposedly skirt the law.
In 2022, legislation signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis gave law enforcement and gaming officials the authority to investigate and ultimately shut down businesses housing illegal gaming machines.
Grand Junction ‘gray casinos’ operated outside of the law
Colorado casino gambling is legal in just three gambling towns:
The only other casinos allowed are two tribal-run casino resorts in the southwest corner of the state. Colorado online casinos are illegal.
As is the case in several other states, illegal gambling halls pop up in areas where gambling is illegal. Adult arcades operating illegal gaming machines have been found in most of Colorado’s largest cities. These gray casinos are unregulated and contribute no tax money to the state, which is why law enforcement began aggressively cracking down of them.
After the legislation was passed in 2022, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Crime Reduction Unit, Major Offender Task Force and Homeland Security Investigations worked together to investigate suspected illegal gaming establishments in the Grand Junction area.
Additionally, Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction and the town of Palisade all passed moratoriums on the adult arcades.
Investigators found that several of the businesses housing illegal gaming machines were breeding grounds for additional crime. In a press release, authorities said drug use, drug transactions, assaults, trespassing, stolen vehicles and thefts were taking place at these facilities.
“These types of gaming establishments began popping up throughout Mesa County as far back as 2017, creating a complex and unexplored problem,” a Mesa County Sherrif’s Office statement read. “Although many of them presented themselves as legitimate businesses, investigators discovered that not only were many of the gaming machines illegal, but these types of businesses were attracting large amounts of additional criminal activity.”
Neighboring businesses thankful for law enforcement crackdown
The five businesses shut down were:
- The Fishin’ Hole
- Spin N Win 2
- Spin N Win 3
- Lucky Clifton
According to Mesa County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Brian Eldridge, the community rejoiced after the first of these five establishments was closed.
“777 on North Avenue has been vacated and is officially no longer in operation,” he said in a statement. “During our visit this afternoon, we were greeted by every surrounding business owner with compliments and celebration. It was humbling to watch them rejoice in reclaiming their piece of this wonderful county. The manager at the post office was brought to tears when we assisted the maintenance man/property owner by removing the window decals and sign, officially signifying to all that the location is no longer open for business.”
Once 777 was shut down, law enforcement turned its attention to The Fishin’ Hole. Between a deputy, the landlord and an attorney, it was agreed that the business would close willingly, the release said.
“The landlord and their attorney were provided the opportunity to mitigate and resolve the problems without official action,” the statement read. “They opted to close their doors and vacate the property.”
The final three establishments – Spin N Win 2, Spin N Win 3 and Lucky Clifton – all ceased operations after having search warrants issued against them. Homeland Security Investigations helped issue the warrants.
Colorado Springs dealing with illegal casinos, too
These gray casinos were outlawed in 2018 when Colorado lawmakers amended a gambling law to close loopholes. The amendment stated that any gambling outside of Colorado’s three gambling towns is illegal.
Other states have not made the same proactive moves. Many businesses still operate gray machines across the country in states with laws that specifically outlaw them or make them legal and regulate/tax them. This has created confusion for law enforcement and filled up courtrooms. Many times, owners of the arcades truly believe they are acting within the law.
Colorado Springs Police Department Lt. Mark Chacon told KRDO.com that his department was more concerned with education as opposed to enforcement.
“A lot of these businesses are not aware that these are not legal in the state of Colorado,” he said. “That is why it is really important for us to do the educational phase before we even look at any potential enforcement action.”
In Colorado Springs, law enforcement sent out notices to 32 businesses in April warning them that the machines they were operating were illegal and they could be charged for housing them. The city of Aurora has unanimously approved measures to ban these machines and also banned the use of cryptocurrency for winnings.
The state is becoming less and less understanding of the confusion surrounding these machines.