Gambling for the children: an overview of Amendment 68 | CraigDailyPress.com

Gambling for the children: an overview of Amendment 68

Janelle O'Dea

— One amendment on November's ballot could change the Colorado state constitution. It promises additional funding for K-12 education.

But some Coloradans are concerned about Amendment 68. To some, it seems like it should belong in the Rhode Island constitution.

Amendment 68 proposes to allow and tax limited gambling at horse racing tracks in three counties on the Front Range, with tax proceeds going directly to kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

Horse track casinos would have to make a single payment of $25 million to the state treasurer's office for deposit into the K-12 education fund within the first 30 days of operating limited gaming and 34 percent of gambling revenue per year thereafter, according to the full text of the amendment.

The other 66 percent of the revenue, though, could go to Rhode Island. Coloradans for Better Schools Inc., champions the campaign for Amendment 68. According to the political action committee's campaign finance reports on the Colorado Secretary of State website, most of its money is donated by Mile High USA, a subsidiary of Twin River Casinos. Twin River Casinos is a company located in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties would become eligible to have one casino at a horse racing track. Currently, only Arapahoe Park in Aurora is an eligible host for gambling. Under the amendment's provisions, a horse track must be in operation for five years as of Jan. 1, 2014, before offering gambling.

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Limited gambling, by Colorado law, has a maximum wager of $100 and includes slot machines, poker, craps, roulette and blackjack, and is currently only legal at casinos in historic districts in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek and on tribal reservation lands in Southwest Colorado.

Those who support the measure argue it will fuel the economy and fund education while opponents say that the minimal impact on education isn't enough to detract from the creation of a metro-area casino and its potential impacts to the state's existing casinos and their role in supporting state programs.

Russell George, President of Colorado Northwest Community College, is concerned about Amendment 68's effect on community colleges.

"There’s a limit to that (the amount of money given to community colleges from gambling revenues) and if you fall under that limit we begin to lose money," George said.

According to a document from a Colorado State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education work session:

"The Colorado Community College System received $28 1/4 million throughout the past years from gaming activity in the existing gaming towns. The vast majority of these funds would likely be eliminated if Amendment 68 is passed as gaming activity would likely migrate from the mountain towns to the metro area."

Moffat County Republican Party chairwoman Brandi Meek doesn't support Amendment 68.

"Although I am in full support of better education for our students, like Amendment 66 which was defeated by a very large margin last year, this amendment does not give any indication how the additional funds will improve the quality of education of Colorado students," she said.

Jo Ann Baxter, Moffat County Democratic Party chair, agrees with Meek.

"I've chosen to vote against it," said Baxter. "First of all, it's going into the constitution, and I just don't see that that's an important enough thing to go into our state constitution." Baxter also thinks K-12 children should not be used as a "method to make money through gambling."

Jessica Peck, an attorney with her own firm in Denver who specializes in education law among other areas, said 68 is a "no-brainer."

"I think we should be greeting them with a welcome sign instead of 'No thanks, take your hundred million dollars elsewhere' because that’s what’s going to happen," Peck said.

She's frustrated because she feels people think 68 is just a drop in the bucket for Colorado's K-12 education system.

"One of the common misconceptions I’ve heard is that $100 million isn’t a lot of money. I understand we have a lot of students, but if we put this together with other funding sources, it could do something," Peck said. "We need to shake things up when it comes to the way we look at school funding."

Republican Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton talked about education funding during his visit to Craig on Oct. 16 but did not specifically comment on Amendment 68.

"I don't want Colorado schools and colleges and universities to have to take kids from out of state because they can't afford to take people in-state and provide education services for people in the state of Colorado," Stapleton said during his visit.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday