Tourism initiative slated for the November ballot |

Tourism initiative slated for the November ballot

DENVER – An initiative that would place 500 video lottery terminals in licensed casinos and dog and horse racetracks around the state appears to be slated for the November ballot.

State Senator Jack Taylor announced that Support Colorado’s Economy and Environment (SCEE), the organization spearheading the initiative, had collected 120,000 signatures to turn in to the Secretary of State for consideration, an announcement from the group said. SCEE needed only 67,799 signatures.

Proponents describe the initiative as a way to generate funding for the promotion of tourism in the state.

“Let me be very clear: This initiative is about the economy and jobs,” Taylor said. “Since 1993 the State of Colorado has not had a dedicated stream of revenue to promote tourism. We have come up with a solution that does not raise new taxes or take money from the already overburdened state coffers.”

Opponents of the measure say it will dramatically increase the amount of gambling in the state. Many small gaming towns, such Blackhawk and Central City, feel it may prove detrimental to business.

“The mountain casinos don’t think they will fair very well if people have an option for playing slot machines 15 minutes away from their house,” said Katy Atkinson, press secretary for a Denver-based group opposed to the initiative. “I think there’s a lot of people that want to find some additional funding for tourism promotion, but this is the wrong way to go about doing it. It’s too high a price to pay, and it would hurt small-town tourism.”

In 1993, Colorado voters repealed a .2 percent tax on tourism expenditures that paid for general tourism promotion in Colorado. Since then, the industry, which is the state’s second largest, has suffered dramatically.

“Any time that tourism is such a big piece of the economy, you have to make sure you’re reaching out to the marketplace,” said the executive director of the Summit County Chamber of Commerce, also named Jack Taylor. “By taking away those dollars, we stopped reaching out to the marketplace. Anyone who has ever run a small business knows how big a mistake that was.”

The initiative may help remedy that. According to SCEE, the measure would expand on many of the programs the state lottery already funds, with 61 percent of the profits from these machines funding local and state parks, Great Outdoors Colorado, tourism promotion and public school construction.

“This initiative does not create a “gambling explosion’ like the casinos would like to believe,” said Shannon Rushton, a member of the Horseman’s Association and advocate of the measure. “Under this initiative, video lottery would only be allowed where legal gambling already occurs today.”

However, Atkinson maintains that is not the case.

“What you see is not what you get from this proposal,” she said. “They’re proposing slot machine palaces to go up and down Colorado’s Front Range, which I think is going to fundamentally change Colorado.”

Atkinson’s group, Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos, is funded in large part by mountain casinos.

“They’re not being straight with Colorado voters,” she said. “They’re trying to pretend that this is not about gambling, but that’s all it’s about.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached

at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or

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