AURORA | Whatever comes of the proposed entertainment district in northeastern Aurora, gambling probably won’t be part of any future development.
Aurora City Council is considering an ordinance that would, if passed by council, make it unlawful for a limited gaming or sports book facility to operate in the city, particularly in an authorized entertainment district, such as the one city leaders have referred to voters this November.
The proposed entertainment district, which was defeated by just more than 1,000 votes two years ago because it lacked a definite location, specifies the region would be a 1,700-acre plot owned by the city east of Hudson Road and north of Interstate 70. The location is a few miles from the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center far off from the city center and neighborhoods.
City leaders believe that an entertainment district could bring in development such as a racetrack, shopping, restaurants and nightlife. While there aren’t any ongoing conversations between the city and future developers, the approval of the entertainment district would greenlight those talks.
But casinos aren’t a part of the city’s vision for the development.
“When the Colorado Gaming Association learned of the City of Aurora’s proposed ordinance to create an ‘entertainment district,’ we asked that the ordinance contain language prohibiting any form of gambling in conjunction with the district,” said Lois Rice, CGA’s executive director.
CGA worked with the city attorney to draft the ordinance so that the possibility of casinos in the entertainment district didn’t arise in the future.
Colorado’s current casino owners are excruciatingly protective of their turf, saying that any metro expansion of gaming would critically affect the state’s mountain gaming communities.
“Over time there has been proposals to put a casino in the vicinity of Denver International Airport. I believe the thought was that by putting a casino close to the airport there would be the possibility of tourists who would fly in, go to the casino and they’d be captured on that site and never make it to Aurora or Denver,” said Mark Grueskin, the CGA’s legal counsel.
When CGA approached the city about the possibility of a casino in the entertainment district, Grueskin said the city ensured that gambling was not any part of their intent.
“Nothing was further from their minds,” Grueskin said.
Aurora City Attorney Mike Hyman echoed the same viewpoint, saying there is no interest in allowing gambling in the entertainment district.
The proposed gambling ordinance amends parts of Chapter 94 in the city code that relate to gaming and gambling.
The preventative measure reaffirms what voters have already made clear, Rice said. In 2014, 68 percent of Arapahoe County voters opposed expanding gambling along the Front Range.
Likewise in 2003, Coloradans and Arapahoe County voters overwhelmingly decided against amending the state constitution that would have allowed video lottery terminals in horse and greyhound tracks in Colorado.
Even with little public support, there has been talks of a casino popping up near the airport.
“Native American tribes have talked about locating some place in Colorado near or around Aurora on land that they may have a claim,” Grueskin said.
The type of ordinance like the one Aurora is considering isn’t extremely unusual, especially as casinos and internet gambling cafes tend to pop in areas entrepreneurs have already staked out potential locations, as is the case in Aurora.
Additionally, the measure ensures that internet gambling cafes don’t end up as a part of any future development.
While the legislature has moved to eliminate those types of enterprises, Grueskin said the jury is still out on the effectiveness of those measures, so the proposed city ordinance is all-encompassing to include casinos as well as internet establishments.
“If you’re going to build a casino, you better have the infrastructure that’s going to accommodate a casino,” Grueskin said. “Having those kinds of (gambling) operations plant themselves when the city didn’t have the vision is a huge downfall.”
The proposed ordinance also serves a political purpose. It prevents the casino argument from even surfacing, extinguishing potential critics of the city’s November ballot question.
“The point is that the city never intended for this vote to be about authorizing tax-subsidized casinos,” Grueskin said. “They’ve been proactive in making sure that isn’t an issue during or after the election. I take my hat off for them for having such a vision and having an answer.”