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Opinion: Proposition 68, an amendment rife with problems

Ken Johnson
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Free Press Opinion Columnist

You might think 40 casinos already operating in Colorado might be enough.

Then along comes constitutional amendment Proposition 68, with the lure of reviving a dying sport and getting tons of free money for schools. Yea, rah rah!

Like most other political promises, this one is certainly a doozy.



The idea is for Colorado’s only horse racing track, Arapahoe Park, in Aurora, to get 2,500 slot machines and 65 gaming tables. If it wasn’t so transparently shady, there could be a reason or two to support it.

The company that promoted the idea, and got it on the impending ballot, is the Rhode Island owner of Twin River Casino, once upon a time a race track with some other betting allowed.



That was Lincoln Downs, opened in 1947. Its history says “beware of Rhode Islanders bearing free money.”

The Lincoln Downs lost money as a race track and in 1976 was shut down. It went to greyhound racing, which in turn shut down. It became Twin River Casino and is not doing well, thanks to new competition closer to Boston.

Twin River came about, because (Wikipedia) “in 2003, Lincoln Park and two executives were indicted on federal charges related to an alleged scheme in 2000 and 2001 to pay up to $4 million to the law firm of Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood to gain support for an expansion of the track’s slot parlor, and to block a rival casino proposed by the Narragansett Indian Tribe.”

The state ordered the track sold. But along the way the new owner wound up owning Arapahoe Park in Colorado. Even the late cable TV giant Bob Magness, as state racing commissioner, couldn’t keep that money pit afloat.

Folks across this great land understand pretty well that thoroughbred horse racing is a dying sport. California, with nearly 40 million citizens, can barely support its only three remaining tracks. Dozens of others have become shopping centers or subdivisions.

So we have some slick operators from Rhode Island writing language into our constitution that guarantees them a casino on 400 acres of Arapahoe Park, no guarantee of horse racing, and a guarantee they will be the only casino in Metro Denver. They say Pueblo and Mesa counties can have casinos, too, when that proverbial hell freezes over happens.

Sweet, deal, for them! Oh, and that free money for schools sounds oh so good. But it amounts to less than $100 a student if it pays off as promoted — which it won’t.

Jim Spehar said it best recently: “Amendment 68 is rife with potential problems, not the least of which is prohibiting a community from saying ‘no’ to a casino/racetrack if impacts warrant or local residents object. To an overeager and short-sighted chamber, Amendment 68 may be ‘pro business.’ It certainly can’t be called pro-community.

And why is a casino good, but a national park bad for the local economy? The latter might have actually happened. The former we might aptly name “The Mirage.”

Folks taking their smart pills will vote “NO” on 68.

GJ Free Press columnist Ken Johnson is founder of the Grand Junction Free Press and former owner/publisher of The Daily Sentinel. He spends his time between the Grand Valley and California.


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