Amendment 33: lotto, dogs and horses
Amendment 33 is seeking voter approval to put 2,500 video lottery terminals at dog and horse racing tracks in Pueblo, Commerce City, Arapahoe County, Loveland and Colorado Springs as well as placing them in the existing gambling towns of Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City.
As with most ballot measures, this one, too, has created its share of public debate. It pits the heavyweight Colorado casino industry against an even heavier-weight: British-based Wembley PLC, which owns the four dog tracks and lone horse track in Colorado and bills itself as the largest gaming and racing organization in the U.S. and United Kingdom. It is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Colorado’s economy this year created a state budget crisis that required the state to pare nearly $830 million from its budget.
This proposal seeks to expand gambling by utilizing video lottery terminals that will award printed vouchers. Those vouchers can be redeemed for cash or used to play additional rounds.
The terminals can also be configured to offer games such as video slots, video poker and blackjack, electronic bingo and keno. Proponents say the activity will also spur activity at the horse and dog tracks.
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The state will get 13 percent of the proceeds and up to $25 million will be earmarked for tourism promotion; other funds generated will go to parks, schools and open space.
Except for last year and since 1993, there has been no public funding supporting tourism and the state now ranks 34th nationally in tourism spending. Last year, the state gave tourism promotion a one-time check for $10 million.
It has been estimated by Longwoods International, a research and polling firm, that Colorado is losing up to $2.4 billion a year in tourism dollars that are going elsewhere.
Tourism is the state’s second largest industry, generating $7 billion annually from 24 million visitors, but tourism has weakened over the past few years.
The proposal has been championed by Sen. Jack Taylor, a state legislator who represents Eagle and other nearby counties. and is serving a second term on the Colorado Tourism Board. It’s not the first time such a proposal has been made. In 1997, Gov. Roy Romer vetoed a similar proposal.
Taylor and other proponents of the measure secured 120,000 signatures -well above the 70,000 needed – to get the measure on the ballot.
“We have tried virtually every other method to provide permanent funding for the promotion of tourism to replace the sales tax we lost in “92,” Taylor said in an earlier interview. “This seems to be a logical way to do it.”
After the tourism tax ended in 1993, no state money was spent promoting tourism until 1998. Since then the amount has varied from $1.5 million to $12 million per year. Tourism experts said a “fully” or adequately funded tourism promotion would require a minimum of $13 million annually.
Not all of the money generated by the expanded gambling efforts will be used to promote tourism. Up to $10 million, will be used to build new schools and $30 million could go to land conservation efforts.
Locally the 800-member Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau has thrown its support behind the measure.
Sneaky slot machines?
Opponents of the measure, who include members of the casino industry, say Amendment 33’s language actually conceals the fact that the gambling devices are actually “slot machines”, and they should be subject to a constitutional requirement that local voters approve it.
John Dill is chairman of the Colorado casino-supported opposition group, “Don’t Turn Race Tracks into Casinos.”
“We’re not at all surprised that it made it to the ballot,” Dill said. “I think this will fundamentally change the way that people view Colorado.”
Dill also said the interests he represents are also concerned local governments will have no say over installation of the gambling machines and receive no percentage of the proceeds, even though the machines will be placed in their communities.
“We think the people will agree,” he said. “Obviously this has been a big movement pushed by Wembley, who essentially wrote and funded this proposal.”
Wembley operates race tracks in Rhode Island that have a similar gambling machines in them.
Earlier this summer two Wembley executives pleaded not guilty to charges they conspired to bribe public officials in Rhode Island for political favors. The pair deny the federal grand jury charges.
*Source: Colorado Legislative Council, a non-partisan research arm for the state legislature.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or email@example.com