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
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • INDIGENOUS LANDSCAPES AND COMMUNITIES DIRECTOR
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Indigenous Landscapes & Communities Program is part of the North America Region's Conservation Collaboration team. The Conservation Collaboration team works...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...