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Video lottery machines make ballot

Cliff Thompson & Andy Stonehouse

Will an influx of electronic lotto machines on the Front Range help give the state’s lagging, but diverse tourism sector a much needed boost?Colorado voters will have an opportunity to decide for themselves this fall when the Colorado Tourism Promotion Program initiative hits the November ballot.The plan, which proponents say could generate as much as $25 million for tourism efforts by placing video lottery terminals at dog and horse racing tracks in Commerce City, Arapahoe County, Loveland, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, was successfully placed on the ballot by a group led by Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. Taylor’s district includes Eagle County.”This is a great day for saving the jobs people already have in the tourism industry and creating new jobs, which is right where we’re headed on rejuvenating the economy,” Taylor said Friday afternoon.Taylor, serving a second term on the Colorado Tourism Board, recently submitted 120,000 signatures in support of placing the measure on the ballot – but only 70,000 were required to guarantee the initiative a chance to go before the state’s voters. Taylor said he feels the time is right for a new source of tourism money.”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,” he said. Taylor characterized most of those other paths to income as “dismal failures,” although this year Gov. Owens did give tourism a $9 million one-time shot in the arm.”This (initiative) seems to be the logical way to do it,” Taylor said. “Tourism is such a large part of our economy”If passed by voters, 2,500 video gambling devices – 500 in each of five locations – will be placed in Colorado racetracks. They are expected to generate $25 million for tourism promotion in 2005, its first full year of operation. Under the plan, tourism’s share of the pot is frozen at $25 million.As much as $10 million per year will be used to build new schools while more than $30 million could go to various land conservation efforts in Colorado.Tourism promotion received $12 million the last time it was fully funded by the state. Longwoods International, a Canadian tourism consultant company, estimates Colorado is losing up to $2.4 billion in tourism dollars by not promoting itself more strongly.”We’re not doing this in a vacuum,” Taylor said. “The information is generated by the Legislative Council, which is the research arm of the Legislature. It’s based on what has happened in other states.”John Dill, chairman of Don’t Turn Race Tracks into Casinos, an advocacy group sponsored by Colorado’s existing casinos in Central City, Blackhawk and Cripple Creek, said his group still believes the initiative is a harmful effort not-so-secretly spearheaded by the British-based Wembley PLC, the company that owns four of the five race tracks.”We’re not at all surprised that it made it to the ballot,” Dill said. “Obviously, this has been a big movement pushed by Wembley, who essentially wrote and funded this proposal.”And as the issue moves forward,” he added, “it will become obvious to Colorado’s voters that this is an attempt by the company to write their own business plan and hijack Colorado’s political process as a result.”Dill said he doesn’t dispute that his backers, the Colorado Gaming Association, have a vested interest in opposing the initiative, but said there are still important reasons for voters to turn it down.”I think this will fundamentally change the way that people view Colorado,” Dill said. “We’re also concerned that local governments get no say in this and no percentage of the proceeds, even though the machines will be placed in their communities. We think people will agree.”After all,” he added, “Gov. Romer vetoed a similar push in 1997, when Wembley managed to get a bill out of the Legislature.”The Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau recently came out in support of the initiative and has promised to provide its 800-plus members with information on the benefits of the ballot.


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