County voters trounce Amendment 33
Statewide, it was defeated nearly 5 to 1. The county vote, 3,931 against and 1,981 for, was closer to 2 to 1.
A total of 5,300 Eagle County voters cast ballots on the measure, approximately one-third of the eligible voters.
For Stefani Houseman of Edwards, Amendment 33 was a good idea because it provided money for tourism promotion without increasing taxes.
“I’m in marketing,” she said. “If there’s an opportunity to increase revenues without increasing taxes, I’m for it.”
She saw no harm in expanding the gambling: “There’s already gambling in those areas,” she said.
Jack Buchanan of Edwards also voted in favor of the measure, issuing a blunt assessment: “If they want to spend money on gambling, we’ll take it.”
One resident cast a reactionary vote.
“I voted for it because the casinos are against it,” said Jim Chapin of Edwards. “This doesn’t cause any more harm. There is already gambling there.”
But many others voted against the measure.
Amendment 33 would have 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.
The proposal pitted the largest gaming and gambling organization in the United Kingdom, Wembley PLC, versus the U.S. casino industry, which opposed it because of its potential to create additional competition.
Wembley operates four of the five dog and horse tracks in Colorado, and is seeking to make them profitable. Wembley’s stock is traded on the London Stock Exchange.
The carrot for voters approving the measure was the up to $25 million the gambling would provide to promote Colorado’s flagging tourism. State officials estimate that Colorado is losing up to $2.4 billion in tourism revenues by failing to promote tourism aggressively enough. The state ranks 34th in spending for tourism promotion of the 50th states. The share for tourism would have been capped at no more than $25 million, along with money that would have gone to parks and recreation, as well. Hawaii, by comparision, spends $77 million a year on promoting itself as a vacation destination.
Colorado tourism generates an estimated $7 billion annually and attracts 24 million visitors. The state government, which this year cut $830 million from its budget, has been heavily impacted by the economic downturn.
Amendment 33 was promoted with nearly $10 million, largely from Wembly, which helped write the legislation, and attacked aggressively with a huge media advertising campaign led by the casinos.
The proposal sought to expand gambling by using video lottery terminals that pay out with printed vouchers that can be used to play additional rounds or that may be redeemed in cash.
The proposal was championed by Jack Taylor, a state senator who represents Eagle County and other Western Slope communities. He is serving a second term on the Colorado Tourism Board.
The proposal also would have generated $30 million for land conservation efforts and $10 million for building new schools. The gambling expansion would have expired in 2019.
Locally, the Vail Chamber and Tourism Bureau’s 800 members threw their support behind the measure.
The issue was clouded by the indictment of two top Wembley officials in Rhode Island on charges they conspired to bribe public officials. Both deny the federal charges.
It’s not the first time such a measure has appeared on the state radar screen. In 1997 Gov. Roy Romer vetoed a similar proposal.
This measure made the ballot after supporters gathered 120,000 signatures.
Colorado’s tax-supported tourism promotion ended in 1993. Since then tourism promotion, which would take an estimated $13 million annually, has been underfunded, critics say. Last year, Colorado spent $9 million.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 x450 or firstname.lastname@example.org