Colorado says ‘no’ to casino gambling at Arapahoe Park, K-12 school funding

By Ellis Arnold
Special to Under the Flatirons

Amendment 68 in Colorado met a resounding defeat, as nearly 72 percent of voters voted no on the measure Tuesday.

With 90 percent of votes reported, the amendment that aimed to allow “limited gaming” additions to horseracing tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa, and Pueblo counties will be shot down. In plain language, this means that casinos will not be allowed to be built on those sites.

The amendment was touted as an easy way to raise money for public K-12 education in Colorado without raising income or property taxes on individuals. A portion of the revenue from the new casinos would have been taxed and used to fund schools; proponents of the amendment estimated that it would have raised $114 million per year for K-12 education, which would be an increase in funding of about one percent.

The opposition argued that the amendment’s true intention was not to increase K-12 education funding, but to serve the interests of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a casino-operating company based in Rhode Island that would have profited on a casino built in Arapahoe county.

“Amendment 68 writes a single corporation into our state constitution, which we believe is wrong,” says Michele Ames, spokesperson for the Vote No on 68 Campaign. “Amendment 68 pretends to fund K-12 education without actually proposing a serious solution to our K-12 education funding challenges.”

Ames says that no education-related groups in Colorado have come out in support of the amendment because the small increase in funding is not large enough to substantially help Colorado’s K-12 schools. Ames says that the possibility that voters might think the state’s education funding problem would be solved after passing Amendment 68 also fueled opposition from organizations like the Colorado Association of School Boards, school districts like Denver Public Schools, and the Colorado Parent Teacher Association, which passed a resolution against the amendment. The Colorado PTA opposes the use of gambling revenue to fund education.

Monica McCafferty, spokesperson for the Coloradans for Better Schools’ Yes on 68 Campaign, said that the amendment would have been a positive way for Colorado to increase K-12 funding without raising income or property taxes on citizens. McCafferty notes that Colorado voters rejected Amendment 66 last year, which would have increased school funding with revenue from a raise in income taxes — she says that voters want to help schools, but not by raising taxes. McCafferty says that “rank-and-file teachers and moms and dads” were among those who supported the amendment.

Opponents of the amendment railed against the negative economic effects that new casinos would have on Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, Colorado’s mountain gambling towns that depend on gambling revenue for economic survival. “It would kill them,” Ames says.

Proponents of the amendment focused on the overall economic gains that the state would have had if it passed.

“The impact if Arapahoe Park would have expanded into a casino would have been $418 million annually statewide,” McCafferty said. “Based on the state’s assessment, the net gain for Amendment 68 still would have been greater than any of the impacts it would have had on the mountain communities. We also believe it would have been good for competition….right now the state’s existing casinos have a monopoly on the current market.”

Yes on 68 was funded primarily by Mile High USA Inc., the company that owns Mile High Racing and Entertainment, which runs Arapahoe’s horseracing track. Twin River Worldwide Holdings, the Rhode Island company, owns Mile High USA Inc. Vote No on 68 was funded primarily by casino owners in Colorado’s mountain towns. What was purported to be a vote based on K-12 education funding really boils down to how the amendment would have affected the economies of the mountain towns, but in any case, Amendment 68 has been defeated — education funding, as well as Colorado’s traditional gambling centers, remains untouched.

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