Riches and Regrets

  • Book cover of "Riches and Regrets"

  In 1990, Colorado voters approved limited-stakes casino gambling in the three old mining towns of Central City, Black Hawk and Cripple Creek. Riches and Regrets: Betting On Gambling in Two Colorado Mountain Towns explains why.


Gambling was promoted as a way to save towns, but it became a way to shred communities. After gambling arrived, other things left - grocery stores, gas stations, garages, free parking, chatting on the street, loafing on a bench and other features of small-town life.


Author Patricia Stokowski tells us gambling was not new to Gilpin County, home of Black Hawk and Central City, since gold-rush saloons boasted faro tables and roulette wheels. Long after the state clamped down, the Central City Opera Association operated slot machines. So when some local leaders pointed to a declining economy in the late 1980s and promoted casinos as a solution, it seemed to fit. Everything would be the same, except more stores would stay open through the winter, and they'd have a slot machine or two stuck in some remote corner.


It didn't work that way. Casinos competed for the entertainment dollar, which means big-time marketing, which means more money and expertise than local entrepreneurs are likely to possess. Further, property taxes are based on the "highest and best use" of a parcel. Property owners discovered they either had to get into gambling or sell out.


Nor did gambling provide many jobs for locals: More than 90 percent of the casino workforce commutes from outside Gilpin County.


Some anticipated problems, such as more prostitution and organized crime, never materialized. Stokowski cites some benefits from gambling: Sloppy town administrations had to clean up, and local youngsters had more job opportunities.


Stokowski is an acute observer of small-town politics and how public issues often get framed so that there is only one outcome - the one desired by the local power structure. For instance, the gambling proponents' claims that Gilpin County's population and economy were in a tailspin. But Gilpin's population had been growing since 1960, and its per-capita income stayed close to the state average.


Stokowski notes that, "As a campaign proceeds, claimants on one side of the debate divert attention from their critics' concerns by reframing the discussion around other topics ..." In other words, any persons who question the claimants become themselves the object of criticism, and are labeled as irrational, unAmerican, against progress, or even worse."


As gambling took over, opera and museum attendance declined even with more tourists. Some community festivals died; others were contrived by the casinos. "Local people do not provide community festivals and events for their own enjoyment any longer; casinos produce the shows, but for very different reasons," Stokowski says - to get people to come to town and lose money.


Casinos also appropriated and revised the rich history of Gilpin County. As mining camps go, Central City was never that lurid or violent.


Riches and Regrets is not light reading; its tone is academic. But it provides a detailed and intimate portrait of ramshackle mountain towns that thought they were getting just a few slot machines and poker tables. The transformation utterly dismayed most residents.


University Press of Colorado, P.O. Box 849, Niwot, CO 80544; hardcover, $39.95. 338 pages. Illustrated with black-and-white photographs. - Ed Quillen





Ed Quillen writes in Salida, Colorado.
High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Southern Nevada Conservancy Board of Directors announces an outstanding opportunity for a creative leader to continue building this organization. SNC proudly supports Nevada's public...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.