Amendment 68

Promise of increased school funding excuse to benefit on out-of-state company

Many questions of public policy deserve serious thought and careful consideration of all sides of the issue. Others, not so much.

An example of the latter is Amendment 68. It is a transparent attempt to use Colorado’s initiative process to benefit a single, out-of-state company, almost certainly at the expense of existing Colorado businesses and jobs.

Amendment 68 would allow casino gambling at the Arapahoe Park horse-racing track near Aurora. It would also allow gambling at as-yet nonexistent tracks in Pueblo and Mesa counties – but only after they had been in operation, with wagering, for five continuous years.

Now, the only racetrack in the state, Arapahoe Park is owned by Mile High Racing and Entertainment, which is, in turn, owned by Twin River Worldwide Holding Inc. That company also owns Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, which is threatened by Massachusetts officials’ decision to allow a slots parlor and three casinos. Lincoln is minutes from the Massachusetts state line and, according to Google Maps, less than an hour and a half from Boston.

The company’s motivation is clear and, to a point, understandable. Its effort would be more sympathetic, however, if solving its Rhode Island problem would not come at Colorado’s expense.

The selling point is that Arapahoe Park’s backers wrote into Amendment 68 a provision for a 34 percent tax on gambling revenue, to be devoted entirely to education. Supporters claim it would yield $100 million per year in funding for K-12 and charter schools.

Opposition to the Arapahoe Park casino scheme comes largely from the owners of existing Colorado casinos in the mountain towns of Cripple Creek, Blackhawk and Central City. They fear Denver-area gamblers would rather make the short drive to unincorporated Arapahoe County than the longer one to their casinos.

They are probably right. Arapahoe Park would be the only casino actually in the Denver metro area, and it would be large. In addition to 65 gaming tables, Amendment 68 specifies Arapahoe Park would have at least 2,500 slot machines. The biggest casino now operating in Colorado, in Blackhawk, has fewer than 1,500.

The worry is that while Arapahoe Park might offer new jobs, they would, to one degree or another, come at the expense of jobs at existing casinos. Hiring one Coloradan while eliminating another’s job is not a move forward.

Likewise, the money for education is unlikely to appear out of thin air. Much of it will be money that would already be collected by other casinos. Cripple Creek gets more than 80 percent of its revenue from casinos. El Paso County has received 147 historic preservation grants totalling an estimated $10 million worth of casino money. If that money shifts to Arapahoe Park, it will largely go from one state pocket to another.

Gambling is not magic. It is a business with a finite market. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City is closing and laying off more than 3,000 people. That comes after one major hotel and casino closed earlier this year. Two more already announced they are shutting down. Thanks to competition from casinos in neighboring states, gambling revenue in Atlantic City is down more than 40 percent from its 2006 peak.

New money for education would be great, but there is no reason to think Amendment 68 would actually provide that. (No teacher or education organizations are behind it.)

What it would do is put existing jobs at risk, threaten historic towns and clutter up Colorado’s Constitution for no other reason than to boost an East Coast company. We do not need it.