Fitz-Gerald: Don’t fall for video lottery machines |

Fitz-Gerald: Don’t fall for video lottery machines

Nov. 4, Colorado voters will face a tempting proposition. We’ll be asked for permission to generate additional dollars for tourism promotion by allowing the Colorado Lottery to place a minimum of 500 “video lottery terminals” (VLTs) at five horse and dog tracks along the Front Range.

Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? “Free” money for a revenue-generating enterprise like tourism promotion.

Who could oppose that? Unfortunately, we all know that when something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

What appears on the surface to be such a good deal for Colorado is really a bad deal for Colorado taxpayers, Colorado communities and Colorado tourism.

Before we can make an intelligent judgment on bringing VLTs to the Front Range, we need to understand what a VLT is. For all practical purposes, a VLT is a slot machine.

It looks like a slot machine, it sounds like a slot machine and it plays like a slot machine.

The only difference between the VLTs being proposed for the Front Range and the slot machines you find at the mountain casinos is that the VLTs will not payout in coins. Instead, the machine will print a bar-coded receipt that the player can turn in for cash.

A healthy amount of skepticism also is important in examining this initiative.

First, there is no such thing as “free” money. The question really being posed in this proposed constitutional amendment is whether we will continue to have limited-stakes, highly regulated casino gambling in Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek – or whether we prefer to move casino gambling to Loveland, Commerce City, Arapahoe County, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

It is an either-or proposition. The market simply will not support the existing casino operations in the mountains along with large casinos along the Front Range. If the mountain casinos close their doors, the historic preservation programs they’ve been funding will suffer a serious setback.

One of the unexpected benefits of Colorado’s existing historic preservation program is the impact it has had on the tourism industry.

The Georgetown Loop Railroad is a great example of how funds generated in our mountain casinos flow through the State Historical Fund to rehabilitation projects that attract tourists and generate jobs and revenues.

Consultants to the Colorado Historical Society estimate that this kind of “heritage tourism” adds in the vicinity of $3 billion to Colorado’s economy.

So, it would seem the promised new tourism dollars will come at the expense of existing tourist expenditures.

The race track casino ballot measure is”t a great deal for the communities that would host these casinos, either. The people of Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek wanted casino gambling in their towns.

The constitutional amendment that made those casinos possible came from the people. The 2003 race track casino initiative is coming from the British company that owns the race tracks.

It has neither consulted with the people who will be most impacted by the casinos nor has it set aside funds to offset the costs those communities will be forced to absorb.

Finally, the ballot measure is a bad deal for Colorado taxpayers.

The owners of mountain casinos used their own capital to purchase their slot machines. The owners of the proposed race track casinos are expecting the Colorado Lottery to purchase their slot machines.

You and I will be the proud owners of thousands of slot machines generating revenues for a foreign-owned company. That’s not right.

The tourism industry in Colorado generates billions of dollars for our economy. Forcing casinos down the throats of citizens in Loveland, Commerce City, Arapahoe County, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, while providing massive subsidies to the British company that will profit from the casinos is not the right way to nurture our tourism industry. Drying up funding for restoring and preserving historical tourist attractions is not a good thing for the tourist industry, either.

What we think we see in the race track casino initiative is not what we’ll get. Colorado deserves better.

State Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat, represents parts of Boulder, Broomfield Clear Creek, Gilpin, Jefferson and Summit counties. She is also the Senate minority leader.

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