COLUMN: A ‘no’ vote on Amendment 68 is a safe bet

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By Christopher Harrop

A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but who can make sense of Amendment 68?

For those of you still scratching your heads after tackling the Colorado Legislative Council’s Blue Book or just totally new to the debate, the measure would allow slot machines, card games and other casino-style games at horse racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties.

Boiling it down, it’s whether the owners of Arapahoe Park racetrack just outside Aurora will be able to join the party in raking in gambling revenue.

What the proponents of Amendment 68 are hanging their hats on is the creation of the K-12 Education Fund, which they project would receive about $100 million annually in racetrack/casino revenues — that money, in turn, would presumably be divvied up among Colorado’s K-12 schools.

The main rallying cry of the most-vocal opponents of Amendment 68 — a.k.a. the owners of the casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek — is scare-mongering over a Rhode Island company making a buck off Coloradans. Of course, they don’t make much of a fuss about Ameristar Casinos being part of Nevada-based Pinnacle Entertainment; or the Lady Luck Casino, owned by Missouri-headquartered Isle of Capri Casinos.

Nor should they. Despite being out-of-state interests, each of the operations in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek pay their way in this state by flowing a percentage of their monthly adjusted gross proceeds back to the state in taxes every month.

The pivotal question raised by Amendment 68 isn’t so much whether schools should benefit from another gaming operation bringing in millions of dollars of revenue — it’s whether those revenues will amount to much if gamblers decide to simply shift from driving to the mountains to traveling to unincorporated Arapahoe County to lose their money.

To be sure, some gamblers will seek out Arapahoe Park for the ponies, but there are far more who’d happily ditch their Black Hawk and Cripple Creek haunts in favor of something closer to home. 

Personally, I have no use for horse racing beyond the brilliant writing that sometimes is forged from it. Two of my favorite pieces of writing — W.C. Heinz’s “Death of a Race Horse” and Hunter Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” — exist thanks to horse racing, dubbed “the sport of kings.” As seemingly barbaric the so-called “sport” can seem, as Heinz’s column detailed in its perfect prose, I cannot muster the moral outrage of invoking animal cruelty here — voting no on 68 won’t stop horse racing.

Nor will I thump a Bible about the vice of gambling and the awfulness of promoting it in the name of education bucks — our schools can use all the help they can get.

Nor will I say that the mountain towns’ monopoly on Colorado’s gambling community ought to be upheld. If Nana wants to go toss the inheritance away, who am I to tell her she has to ride the Ramblin Express all the way up to 8,500 feet when she could just as easily do it within 10 minutes of the closest Olive Garden?

But it all comes back to money, and in looking at the bigger picture, even the good people of Aurora aren’t sold on this plan. Late last month, Aurora City Council discussed formally opposing Amendment 68 over the price tag associated with it. That area of Quincy Avenue and Gun Club Road has already seen a great deal of growth that the city and county haven’t kept pace with in terms of infrastructure — adding to the public works woes will eat into whatever revenue it generates.

Ultimately, this seems like a zero-sum game — just how many more dollars are there to be frittered away on the hopes of cherries and 7’s lined up on a video screen than there are now? My guess is not many.

There might be a time when expanding Arapahoe Park into a larger resort-style attraction makes sense, but there’s nothing yet to suggest that gaming trends simply won’t shift from one place to another with very little benefit to Colorado’s schools. A ‘no’ vote would be a safe bet.


This column solely represents the views of the author and does not constitute a formal endorsement from MetroWest Newspapers. We invite readers to do their own research on each issue and candidate, and encourage responsible ownership of each vote cast, no matter your politics. Reach Managing Editor Chris Harrop at news@metrowestnewspapers.com.