THE LAST HAND – A 25-year winning streak

Bob Sweeney

Bob Sweeney

It was in the fall of 1991 that legalized gambling came to Colorado.

There was a lot of political activity leading up to the voter approval of legalized gaming in three Colorado mountain towns—Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.

These were all depressed areas and many vacant once-proud buildings needed decades of repairs and maintenance.

Bill Lorenz’s Black Forest Inn was the main attraction in Black Hawk. He was an early leader in the gaming movement.

Central City had the summer opera season. A few tourists wandered into town. I was one of them and saw tumbleweeds blowing down the main street of town. 

The Central City Elks Lodge was still operating and I stopped by for a complimentary drink, as is a custom for visiting Elks.

I was a friend and colleague of Freda Poundstone, author of the famed Poundstone Amendment that limited the growth of Denver and gave rise to the growth of the suburbs. 

She was retained as a professional lobbyist to promote the legalized-gaming ballot issue. She did her work with others and gambling became legal 25 years ago this year.

I was even a stockholder in Dolly’s Casino in Black Hawk for a short period of time.

The Colorado Gambler started with the beginning of gambling and it was owned by Marty Chernoff and several of his friends. After one year of publishing, Marty called me on the phone to offer it for sale. He said something like this: “I hear that you are a good publisher and might be interested in my newspaper.”   

I had first read The Colorado Gambler at a breakfast café on South Broadway one Saturday morning. It was a good read and I admired the concept that a newspaper was going to publish gaming news.

The call from Marty was like a message from heaven. “Yes” was my response to meet with him, and before the lunch was over I purchased the stock in the corporate gambling publication. I paid a considerable price for the paper, but it included a staff of 12, a craps table and a dozen late-model computers and related equipment. It was a corporate purchase and I just purchased his stock. 

My family already owned The Villager in the DTC area of Denver that we had operated successfully for a decade, serving Cherry Hills and Greenwood Village. It is still the sister company of The Colorado Gambler.

Marty and I connected immediately and still have a 25-year friendship. I did what I agreed to do in payments, and he delivered the stock in the Colorado Gambler as promised. He didn’t relate that FICA taxes hadn’t been paid on employees and that we would get a lien shortly after the sale. But he stood behind the deal and gave me credit for the $30,000 tax levy I had to pay.

Peter Droege, who was born in Black Hawk, was the talented editor we retained for about one year before he moved to The Denver Catholic Register. He is now the head of Step 13, a very successful residential service for
recovering drug and alcohol addicts on Larimer Street, founded by now-deceased Bob Coté.

Shortly after purchasing the newspaper, my daughter Sharon came by the office at the moment the advertising

representative was resigning his position. Sharon said, ‘Give me his job, Dad.” I did and the rest is history.

The young lady took off and never looked back in making this newspaper a success. The Colorado Gambler soared across the gaming communities with wide readership across the Front Range and mountain casino towns.

This month, we’re looking back over the 25-year span of business, relating some history about the casinos and the people who have pioneered statewide gaming.

Central City Opera depicts triumph and tragedy, and the gambling business has been both for owners and operators.  We never win all the hands, and like the song says, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The pundits predicted all sorts of negativity that never occurred. This form of recreation has been very popular with the public and has employed at least 10,000 people. Gaming has created massive tax dollars for the state, counties and cities. Parks and recreations have received millions, along with historic-preservation projects.

What we’ve noticed in more recent years is the widespread professionalism of the employees. The dealers, bartenders, chefs, pit bosses, cage operators, marketing managers and investor/owners.

It is fair to say that we have many gaming corporations now competing for gaming business. Ed and Shirley Smith at the Wildcard are among the very few original folks still in business.

If we miss you, let us know for our next edition and we’ll include you in the next issue celebrating 25 years of mountain gambling, drinking and having a good time. We have many friends in each town that we’ve met down through the years. 

It would appear that gaming will continue to grow with new hotels and projects continuing. The old Belvedere Theater appears likely to be saved, remodeled and reopened as an asset to the area.

How nice if we had a mini-convention facility to accommodate conventions and trade shows.

Sports betting is another huge option where licensed present-day casinos could have sports lounges where sports betting would be legal. This would include horseracing, along with amateur and professional team competition, just in like Reno and Las Vegas.

Millions are being waged on sporting events and Colorado is at the leading edge of all sports teams and venues.

What a tourist opportunity for our state and a fresh tax source for the state treasury in the face of falling oil prices and statewide declines in energy revenues.

I passed through Deadwood, S.D. recently and the retail stores are an incredible draw for that community. The casinos are showing their age compared to our newer Colorado facilities. But they have a main street full of retail stores with exciting merchandise. It really brought to my attention how new our gaming facilities are, and in such immaculate condition compared to Deadwood.

Deadwood has the 100,000 population of Rapid City to draw from and we have three million people within easy driving distance of our gaming towns. They have Mount Rushmore, but we have Buffalo Bill’s gravesite and museum, along with vast tourist draws.

It’s great to be a part of a thriving business and industry and we thank our faithful readers and advertisers for this great journey into Colorado history for the past 25 years.

We look forward to future decades of having fun and looking for those jackpots.

Play the hand you’re dealt and make the best of it.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login