Animal rights group blast tourism initiative
National animal rights groups are objecting strongly to a Colorado ballot amendment aimed at raising tens of millions of dollars for tourism promotion.
Amendment 33 would allow the installation of video lottery machines at the state’s greyhound and horse tracks. A portion of the funds raised would be spent promoting Colorado tourist attractions, including the state’s ski resorts.
The animal rights groups appear more deeply opposed to the racetracks themselves and the use of animals at those facilities than the lottery terminals. Jill Buckley, government affairs associate in the Western Region for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says the machines will bolster racetracks.
“Dog racing is a cruel industry that should not be propped up with slot machine profits,” Buckley says.
State Sen. Jack Taylor, a Steamboat Springs Republican who also represents Eagle County, was a leader of the campaign to put Amendment 33 on the ballot. The money raised by the initiative – which is backed by Vail Valley tourism organizations –would be used to revive advertising blitzes and other promotional campaigns that lure visitors to Colorado, Taylor says.
“We must find a way to fund the promotion of tourism in Colorado,” Taylor says. “We’re losing 2.5 billion annually of the market share.”
Taylor says dog racing is not an issue in the campaign.
“This initiative, Amendment 33, is really about tourism promotion. Greyhound racing is a completely different subject,” Taylor says. “This does not mandate that owners of dog tracks must put in these devices. All it does is set up the opportunity to apply if they so desire to have them.
“The Amendment itself doesn’t have anything to do with dog racing,” he adds.
The state will spend about $9 million this year attempting to entice tourists to visit Colorado. Taylor says the lottery machines will more than double the funding to $25 million. The rest of the proceeds will go to the state’s open space and parks funds.
A Canadian consulting firm, Longwoods International, that has worked with the state says between $50 and $205 are earned for every dollar invested in tourism promotion. The money raised by the lottery terminals, therefore, could inject $1.25 billion to $5 billion into the Colorado economy, Taylor says.
According to the consulting firm, there was a 30 percent drop in visits to Colorado in 1994 and 1995, the two years after the state’s tourism office was abolished by voters who struck down the tax that funded it. The loss of visits cost the state $847 million, according to Longwoods International.
The campaign against Amendment 33 has put the animal rights groups on the same side of the political fence as the racetracks themselves. It’s a rare confluence of political opinion, says Katy Atkinson, a spokeswoman for another group opposing Amendment 33, called “Don’t Turn Race Tracks into Casinos.”
“There’s a lot of people who don’t normally agree in agreement on this,” Atkinson says. “It’s a really bad idea that’s uniting people who normally wouldn’t talk to each other.”
Atkinson says other groups opposing the video lottery machines include law enforcement, a group of municipal governments and even some Front Range tourism organizations.
“There’s really something for everyone to hate here, and very little to love,” she says.
GREY2K USA is a national, nonprofit greyhound protection organization with more than 10,000 members. The group works with lawmakers across the country to pass greyhound protection laws and defeat attempts by dog tracks to secure tax cuts, subsidies and other legislative assistance, says GREY2K USA President Cary Theil.
“Every year thousands of greyhounds are killed when they are no longer profitable,” he says. “This cruelty should not be rewarded.”
Based on the performance of the terminals in other states, the games are projected to earn about $109 million a year. A chunk of the money would be eaten up by licensing fees and administrative costs, leaving about $66.5 million for the state to divvy up, Taylor says.
Tourism would receive $25 million while the state’s Conservation Trust Fund would get nearly $20 million to put toward open space. The state’s parks would get another $5 million, Taylor says.
No more than 500 video lottery machines could be installed in one location and the program would expire in 15 years, unless it was re-approved by the State Legislature, Taylor says.
The Legislature could also then decide to redirect some of the revenues toward areas other than tourism and open space, he says.
But 15 years, Taylor says, should be enough to prove his program can rejuvenate the Colorado economy and make up the budget shortfalls that the state and its counties, cities and towns are currently struggling with.
Taylor says he’s optimistic Amendment 33 will pass.
But the Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, is urging Coloradans to vote against Amendment 33, says one of the group’s vice presidents, Wayne Pacelle.
“Any person concerned about cruelty to dogs should oppose Amendment 33, which seeks to boost the fortunes of greyhound racing industry,” Pacelle says.
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.