Initiative #135 would legalize casinos at racetracks: Yea or neigh?

Initiative 135, which would expand gambling in Colorado to racetracks, is heading into the homestretch, with a campaign chest that could make this one of the most expensive issues on the November 4 ballot. Earlier this month, the 135 campaign and Coloradans for Better Schools announced that they had gathered 136,342 signatures in support of putting the measure on the ballot, and were turning them into the Colorado Secretary of State's office. But hold your horses: It hasn't made the ballot yet. See also: Personhood USA pushes Amendment 67, redefinition of "person" and "child"

The wording you'll see on the ballot:

Shall state taxes be increased $114,500,000 annually in the first full fiscal year, and by such amounts that are raised thereafter, by imposing a new tax on authorized horse racetracks' adjusted gross proceeds from limited gaming to increase statewide funding for K-12 education, and, in connection therewith, amending the Colorado constitution to permit limited gaming in addition to pre-existing para-mutuel wagering at one qualified horse racetrack in each of the counties of Arapahoe, Mesa, and Pueblo; authorizing host communities to impose impact fees on horse racetracks authorized to conduct limited gaming; allowing all resulting revenue to be collected and spent notwithstanding any limitations provided by law; and allocating the resulting tax revenues to a fund to be distributed to school districts and the charter school institute for K-12 education?

If passed by voters, Initiative 135 would expand legal gambling in Colorado by permitting limited-stakes casino gambling at racetracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties. Casino gambling includes slot machines, card games and various other games of chance. No laws about horse racing or betting on horses would be changed by the initiative.

In order to obtain a limited gambling license, each racetrack would need to host thirty or more live horse race days each year, for at least five years in a row. A one-time fee of $25 million must be paid to the state by the course, and the community in which it is located can also assess a one-time impact fee. Ongoing annual impact fees, negotiated by the racetrack and the community, must be reasonably related to the expenses that occur as a result of allowing casino gambling at the racetrack.

Arapahoe County already has a horse racetrack, Arapahoe Park, which could be licensed this year if the measure passes. And that's where sweetening the concept with education funding comes in.

The one-time fee to the state from each racetrack would be put into a K-12 Education Fund. Along with the state fee, each racetrack must pay 34 percent of its adjusted gross proceeds from the casino gambling into the fund. The education money would then be distributed on a per-pupil basis, and must be used by schools to address local concerns.

One of the arguments against 135 is that local voters do not get to decide if they want gambling to be authorized in their communities. Local communities could see an increase cost to law enforcement, court services, traffic control and road repair if casino gambling moves in. The tax revenue received by communities that already have gambling facilities might drop as more locations are opened. This could undermine economies in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.

Supporter Bob Hagedorn, a former state representative, disliked the idea of raising property taxes to fund schools. During the last Colorado election he opposed Amendment 66, which would have done just that. He is a proponent of 135 because the idea of a "sin tax" is much more appealing, he says. "I think that there is an obvious reality in being creative in how we finance expensive projects," Hagedorn explains. "Looking for ways can have the least possible impact, financially, on people who are less able to handle those increases and taxes. "

Hagedorn believes initiative 135 is structured so that the money has a better chance of reaching the classroom, without hurting those who live in the area.

Former House Majority Leader Chris Paulson also supports the initiative: "It's an annual revenue stream that lends itself to long-range planning, instead of having to depend on the legislature and see whether they cut you back or not," Paulson says.

Yea or neigh?

Although all the signatures have been turned in, the Secretary of State's office has not yet verified that Initiative 135 has the 86,105 legit names required for it to make the ballot. The deadline for all signatures is Monday, August 4.

To find out more about the proposed initiatives for the November 4 ballot, visit the Colorado Secretary of State website. Have a tip? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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