In a controversial and surprising sequence of events, the Colorado House passed a bill allowing casinos to offer lines of credit to customers. SB23-259 had seemed to fail with a vote of 31-34, but one “nay” voter requested a do-over. The bill then passed narrowly by a margin of 33-32. That led to an uproar among lawmakers who scrutinized the procedure and their counterparts’ actions.
It’s not hard to see why the bill is controversial. Responsible gaming means never risking money you can’t afford to lose. Therefore, gambling on credit seems like an inherently bad idea. Yet those advocating for the law say it’s only meant for those who have the cash, just not physically on hand.
The bill specifies that casinos must conduct due diligence to determine a customer’s creditworthiness before extending a loan. That includes checks for any outstanding child support or restitution payments. According to the sponsors, candidates must submit their credit applications in advance.
SB23-259 has sponsors from both sides of aisle and in both halves of the legislature:
- Rep. Marc Snyder
- Sen. Dylan Roberts
- Rep. Ron Weinberg
- Sen. Mark Baisley
An earlier version of the bill had already passed in the Senate. Because the House passed it with amendments, it will now return to the Senate for review. If Senators approve the amendments, all it will need is the signature of Gov. Jared Polis to become law. Should it pass, the new law would come into effect in August.
How Did The Bill Pass?
Having passed in the Senate, SB23-259 needed approval from the House. Republican Rep. Richard Holtorf was among those opposing the bill.
Holtorf expressed his concerns during the week before the vote, suggesting an amendment and later retracting it.
Following the bill’s third reading, it was defeated in a 31-34 vote, with Holtorf among the 34 nays. However, less than an hour later, he requested a reconsideration of the vote, stating that he may have voted in error.
Four lawmakers changed their votes the second time around. Holtorf switched to a yea, accompanied by Rep. Mary Bradfield and Rep. Matthew Soper. At the same time, Rep. Jenny Willford, a Democrat, switched her vote from yea to nay. As a result of those changes, the bill scraped through by a single-vote margin.
This sudden turn of events provoked a backlash from some Democrats. Rep. Bob Marshall openly questioned Holtorf’s claim of a voting mistake, suggesting such actions erode public faith in the government. Holtorf did not comment on the issue following the vote.
Later, Rep. Jeniffer Parenty claimed online that “a bill sponsor” had been seen discussing with “special interests in the lobby” before the second vote. She questioned the integrity of the second vote and said the way things had played out was a violation of House rules.
Who Does a Casino Credit Bill Help?
Supporters of SB23-259 say that the availability of credit lines would make casino visits safer and more convenient for affluent gamblers. The alternatives, they say, are to carry large amounts of cash or make repeated withdrawals from an ATM. Rep. Snyder emphasized the benefits for the tourism industry and the casino sector’s potential for customer retention. According to him, lines of credit would help Colorado gambling compete with other markets, like Las Vegas. The goal, he says, is to keep gamblers in the state.
However, those against it argued the law would allow casinos to encourage individuals to gamble beyond their means. Some lawmakers also seized the opportunity to contrast the casino bill passing with their peers’ rejection of proposals to support working families and people experiencing poverty. Rep. Javier Mabrey and Rep. David Ortiz suggested that power and wealth determine legislative outcomes.
Holtorf himself had been an opponent of the bill until changing his vote. He had said, earlier in the week:
If you’re having to borrow money to gamble, that means you already spent the money you had to spend on gambling, and now you’re wanting to get in the game without any money.
Opponents also worry that competition could force other states to follow Colorado’s lead. That could reverse the progress being made on responsible gaming.
For example, New Jersey has rolled out multiple initiatives. Recently, the state said it’s looking into creating a position for a Responsible Gaming Coordinator. Also, New Jersey rolled out the Responsible Gaming Initiative earlier in the year, which requires operators to monitor potential problem gamblers.
Problem gambling is a serious issue. Recently, the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada and Sightline Payments, a payment processor for the gaming industry, conducted research using 100 million payment transactions. The results showed that 12% of customers had risky behaviors. Meanwhile, another study in the UK found that young people with gambling problems are 2.74 times more likely to attempt suicide.