Polis kills proposal to allow Colorado casinos to loan money to gamblers

Ben Markus/CPR News
The Monarch Casino in Black Hawk, on Tuesday Oct. 8 2019.

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday evening vetoed a proposal that was intended to support Colorado’s gambling industry. The bill would have allowed casinos to loan money to customers, offering lines of credit of $1,000 or more.

The governor shot the measure down, saying that it would have allowed casinos to take advantage of people with gambling addictions — giving them more and more money as they racked up greater losses.

“The key element I take issue with here is whether persons with a gambling disorder can meaningfully consent to a transaction,” Polis wrote in a veto letter

He continued: “Just as there would be issues with gaining the consent of a person with a substance use disorder who is under the influence, there are also serious issues regarding the ability of a person with a gambling disorder to freely consent to a loan while on a gambling spree.”

The bill’s bipartisan sponsors had framed the idea of casino loans as a convenience. Instead of traveling with cash, so-called “high rollers” would apply in advance for a line of credit and use that money to finance their gambling. (Credit cards can’t be used in casinos, and ATMs are inconvenient, supporters argued.) The casinos would have had to check a person’s creditworthiness before offering a loan.

“It’s really trying to attract folks that want to gamble … Gives them the opportunity ahead of time to apply for credit with the casino,” said Rep. Marc Snyder, a Democratic sponsor. He described it as a tourism bill during a House debate. “It’s something that the casinos feel will help them to build and maintain (their) customer base.”

The measure was cosponsored by Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat, and Republicans Rep. Ron Weinberg and Sen. Mark Baisley.

Critics countered that “high rollers” sometimes are caught in a gambling addiction, taking unsustainable losses as they're showered with perks.

“My focus is on saving Coloradans money, not exposing them to loans from casinos that could be their financial ruin,” Polis wrote, adding that he still supported people’s right to gamble.

The bill was already the subject of intense controversy in the House, where it had appeared to fail on its final vote — only to be called back up and have several lawmakers flip their positions, allowing the measure to pass. 

Some Democrats harshly criticized the proceedings, saying that “special interests” had pressured lawmakers to flip. Weinberg said that wasn’t true — he told CPR News that lawmakers had previously pledged to support the bill, and he had reminded them that their word is their bond.

Separately, Polis vetoed two other measures on Tuesday. One would have changed the rules for “urban renewal” developments. Another would have guaranteed that many workers can accept cash tips. Polis said the cash tip measure was well intended, but that decisions about tipping should be left to the “private sector and the free market of employers and employees.”

Earlier, Polis vetoed measures pertaining to the reintroduction of wolves and to procedures for incarcerated people seeking clemency.