Gambling could bring fortunes to De Beque like Mesquite, resident says

De Beque-area resident Sheila Blackwell wanted to hear directly from supporters about the possibilities gambling might have on the economically depressed area.

Blackwell, who used to live in Utah, saw how the tiny town of Mesquite, Nev., was transformed with money for new schools and law enforcement, a spate of new services and a housing boom when casinos moved in.

In about the past two decades, the population spiked there from little more than 2,000 to its current 16,000 inhabitants.

She believed an infusion of tourism, jobs and infrastructure mirroring Mesquite’s fortune could also benefit De Beque if limited stakes gambling is allowed. A press conference Thursday at De Beque’s modest City Hall that attracted about two dozen residents confirmed Blackwell’s beliefs.

“I think it will increase revenue and the valuations of properties,” she said. “They’ve gone down, down, down.”

Pressing for De Beque to be the state’s fourth city to allow gambling is no small undertaking, members of the recently organized nonprofit group De Beque Wild Horse Gaming Committee allowed. Limited stakes gambling means only slot machines, blackjack and poker are allowed, and casinos are not allowed to operate all hours of the day.

Rep. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, is sponsoring the legislation to help the effort along in Colorado’s House of Representatives.

If it moves from there, which would require a two-thirds vote, Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, will sponsor it in the state Senate, where it also will require a two-thirds vote, King said. From there, the measure would be decided by the state’s voters during the Nov. 4 election.

King said he initially believed allowing gambling in De Beque would create pushback from the state’s other cities where gambling has been allowed — Cripple Creek, Blackhawk and Central City.

That view changed after he queried some folks in the gambling industry, he said.

“They don’t consider De Beque to cut into their market share,” King said. “Mountain casinos look at it as a possibility to expand their market share.”

Wayne Khlan, mayor of 
De Beque, outlined the history of his town, which was at its peak in the 1920s.

De Beque was a hub for agriculture and also was known as the biggest shipping town in Colorado, he said. These days, the only the restaurant is the Subway off Interstate 70.

The area experienced a rush in oil and gas production in early 2000, but it has dropped off lately. There is one small grocery store and gas station, a liquor store and a laundromat to share among about 500 residents.

Khlan touted the future of gaming as a way to keep the town viable, and credited some of the town’s younger residents with helping to lead the charge.

“We don’t want to lose our school, we don’t want to lose our town,” Khlan said. “We don’t want to become Rulison.”


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