One Colorado city is putting its foot down on one avenue of Colorado gambling that’s a source of controversy. Grand Junction City Council voted on Feb. 1 to put a moratorium on the expansion and movement of skilled gaming businesses within its limits.
This hold prohibits the creation of new skilled gaming businesses within the city. It also pauses any movement of current business to new locations within Grand Junction. The moratorium could last up to a year.
“The idea behind the moratorium is just to take a timeout,” City Attorney John Shaver told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Current skill gaming businesses, however, can still operate as normal. Shaver said:
“There are certainly some of them that are well-run, but many of them are not, and by virtue of those that are not, there are impacts on neighbors, there are other ancillary crimes that are associated with the patrons of the businesses. So, during the proposed moratorium, we will try to get a handle on what that may look like into the future.”
Pushing the boundaries of Colorado gambling legality
Skilled gaming businesses boast similar products as you’d see in a traditional Colorado casino, resembling slots or arcade games. But these games rely on skill and a money payout, which tightropes official Colorado gambling legality.
“This is an interesting area because of the fact that there is a very fine line between gambling that is legal and gambling that is illegal,” City Attorney John Shaver told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
In turn, these businesses are often dubbed “gray casinos.” “There’s a legal distinction between a game of skill and a game of chance,” Shaver said at a City Council workshop last month.
How many skilled gaming businesses are in Grand Junction?
The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Junction Police Department say they’ve seen a rise in crime near these businesses.
“What we’ve seen as a result of these places is a lot of increased crime associated with them or in the general area, of some of these establishments,” Interim Police Chief Matt Smith told the Daily Sentinel.
According to Smith, there could be close to 15 skilled gaming businesses operating within Grand Junction. However, it’s hard to keep track. Smith explained: “They tend to lease spaces, and then they move. For example, we had one two weeks ago set up in a garage. We had a robbery there.”
Smith said the difficulty lies within deciphering gaming and gambling from criminal activity. He noted that these establishments are much less regulated than bars.
How will Grand Junction investigate its skilled gaming businesses?
Shaver explained that it wouldn’t be an easy investigation. “You have to look at the machine and see if the action of the player is actually causing an effect when the button is pushed or some external kind of skill activity is administered,” he told the Daily Sentinel.
Smith explained that it would cost roughly $20,000 for an analysis of just one machine.
“Really what we would need is we would have to have probable cause that it was illegal gambling, then have to have a search warrant, we would have to seize the machine, we would have to send the machine to Denver, there’s a company there that analyzes them forensically,” he said.
The pause in movement and expansion feels restrictive, according to some local business operators. Troy Romero, who runs Raptors LLC on Main Street said:
“What happens if I wanted to buy a building and move my establishment somewhere? What happens then? Because to me, I run a really good business. And I have a lot of blue-collar workers coming to my spot. I wouldn’t be on Main Street if I was creating hell.”