DENVER — Colorado voters will have a chance to decide whether they want to change the way bingo and raffle games are managed in the state in the upcoming election.
Amendment C is on the November ballot and does three main things: It decreases the number of years that a nonprofit organization must be in existence to be able to run the games, it eliminates the requirement for bingo-raffle workers to be members of the nonprofit and it allows workers to be compensated for their time in the form of meals or payment.
These games have been regulated by the Colorado state constitution since 1958. Since that time, the law has only been significantly changed once to allow for electronic devices to be included.
However, supporters of Amendment C say it’s time for an update since they are competing with things like sports betting.
“There’s been tremendous change in the acceptance of gaming in Colorado. I mean, we’ve got horse-racing, we’ve got off-track betting, we’ve got sports betting and we have casinos,” said Corky Kyle, the executive vice president of the Colorado Charitable Bingo Association. “That has caused some real harm for nonprofits.”
All of the money from bingo must go to nonprofit organizations, such as church groups, bands, sports teams or veterans’ organizations.
There used to be roughly 49 bingo halls across the state that generated roughly $230 million annually. These days, Kyle says, there are now only 11 bingo halls across Colorado that generate about $22 million per year and that only 800 of the state’s 9,000 nonprofits have a license to run a game.
“Bingo is kind of a dying industry. We have some old rules and regulations that kind of keep us held down and not being able to compete with for-profit gaming and things like that,” said Paul Vigil, the owner of Barry’s Bingo Hall.
Under current rules, in order to be able to run one of these games, a nonprofit must be in existence for five years. Amendment C would lower that threshold to three years.
“Changing it to three will allow organizations to get involved and take advantage of bingo,” Vigil said.
Beyond that, it would allow nonprofits to compensate their volunteers with food, discounts on their membership or money up to the minimum wage.
“One of the most difficult things that our nonprofits have is, number one: Finding volunteers, and number two: Keeping them,” Kyle said.
Part of the reason finding volunteers is so difficult is because bingo games can be time-consuming and last several hours. They also require volunteers to be on their feet and walking around for long stretches of time.
“The VFW’s are getting older, so they may need 12 or 15 people to run bingo where the younger soccer groups have younger parents and might only need six or seven to manage it,” Vigil said.
Amendment C would also allow for bingo halls to provide workers to manage the games for the nonprofit organizations.
Supporters are also hoping it will help attract younger players since the average age of people who visit a bingo hall is going up.
There is no organized opposition on Amendment C and casinos have largely remained neutral on the ballot initiative.
However, in the Blue Book analysis, the arguments against the proposal say it would professionalize bingo-raffle operations and could undermine the charitable fundraising purposes of it.
Beyond that, paying workers could increase the overhead costs to operate the game and potentially reduce the amount of money these nonprofits receive. By removing the volunteer portion of the law, the Blue Book says the games become more like for-profit gambling than charitable fundraising.
“Professionalizing, I think that’s a stretch. I don’t buy it at all,” Kyle said of the criticisms.
There is also a cost associated with the amendment. The changes are expected to increase state revenue by about $5,000 per year as a result of the new application and renewal fees for licenses.
However, the Blue Book analysis anticipated it will cost the state about $83,000 in the 2020-2021 fiscal year and $37,500 annually after that to process those additional licenses, conduct compliance investigations and make changes to the computer system.
Still, supporters of the changes say they’re long overdue.
“It will allow us to reinvent bingo so that we can meet the changing demands of the players,” Kyle said. “Things have changed, and we need to change with it.”