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Businesswoman fighting arcade bill arrested on gambling charges

Author: Joey Bunch - March 28, 2018 - Updated: April 5, 2018

Garamova arcadesTammy Garamova, president of the Colorado Skill Games & Entertainment Association, was arrested on gambling charges Tuesday afternoon. She set up a game at the Capitol and testified against a bill that would ban arcades with cash payouts on March 16. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

DENVER — After doing an interview with a TV station at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Tammy Garamova returned to one of the arcades she operates and was arrested in the parking lot by Denver police.

Two other people were also taken into custody on “multiple gambling charges,” said Denver police spokesman Doug Schepman.

Officers served search warrants on three of Garamova’s Denver arcades: La Fortuna at 9 S. Federal Blvd., El Dorado Skill Games at 2544 N. Sheridan Blvd. and American Pride Skill Games at 10890 E. Dartmouth Ave.

Garamova is president of Colorado Skill Games & Entertainment Association and two weeks ago she testified against House Bill 1234 before the House Local Government. The legislation, which seeks to reclassify arcade games that offer cash payouts as simulated gambling devices. She owns the three businesses with her husband, Bagrat Garamova, and another co-owner. Denver police were still processing those arrested and did not release their names Tuesday night. The trade association identified the Garamovas.

Schepman said officers served search warrants that were the product of nine months of investigation.

Colorado has had a series of raids at similar arcades across the state. La Fortuna and American Pride were raided in October. The one case, so far, that has gone to the courts was tossed out in El Paso County, because a Colorado law passed in 2015 to ban “internet sweepstakes cafes”  was found to be too vague.

That’s why the legislature says its tightening the definitions of simulated gambling devices. Businesses such as Dave & Busters and Chuck E. Cheese would remain legal, as long as no one could win a prize worth more than $25 in once visit, under the bill.

The legislation passed the House 57-14 Monday and awaits a hearing in the Senate.

Garamova testified against the bill when it passed the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee 12-0 on March 16.

She characterized the arcades as small businesses that have complied with the existing law, but she said the new laws are aimed at shutting down businesses that law enforcement nor the courts have yet to prove is illegal.

“Why are we trying to create a new law if the games are already illegal?” she said two weeks ago. “Those ideas are conflicting.”

Colorado Skill Games & Entertainment Association executive director Chris Howes said Tuesday evening that the arrests were inconsistent with current laws. The arcades say they are not games of chance, which are illegal. They are games of skill, where the player controls the outcome to some degree. They say their cash prizes are no different from fantasy sports league payouts or valuable prizes that can be won at other corporate-owned arcades that have not been raided.

The association said that if Denver cops are certain that the current law is clear enough to seize property and make arrests, as they did Tuesday, then House Bill 1234 is unnecessary. If the current laws are not sufficient, then the Garamovas and others who have been raided should have their property returned. the trade group said in a statement.

“This HB 1234 legislation pulls the rug out from under our small business owners who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a legal business operation and who have never lost in a court of law,” Howes stated. “Now the casino industry wants to shut them down and is using the strong arm of government to do so. Today’s raids are evidence of their efforts. We hope that the Senate will ultimately see through this injustice, and we were thankful to see the wide ideological range of opposition the bill received in the House.”

Michelle Lyng, a spokeswoman for the casino-based organization called Protect Our Neighborhoods, called the associations arguments about seized machines a distraction from the legislative issue that the arcades are unconstitutional, in her organization’s view. In a statewide amendment passed in 1990, Colorado voters allowed gambling only in Black Hawk, Cripple Creek and Center. She said 10 ballot attempts to expand gambling have failed over the last two decades.

“Each and every time, voters have resoundingly rejected expanding gambling outside of the three constitutionally-outlined towns,” Lyng said. “The voters have spoken: They do not want gambling in their neighborhoods. If the skilled gaming association does not like the law, we suggest that they change the constitution. Let the voters decide, again. Until then, anyone who values the rule of law and who values voters’ wishes should reject the strawman arguments over skill vs. chance, which is clearly settled in our constitution.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a comment from Protect Our Neighborhoods.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.