Amendment 50: Odds on the casinos

Many Colorado casinos, like this one in Central City, reference the traditional architecture and historic nature of old mining towns. (Photo/Bob Spencer)
Many Colorado casinos, like this one in Central City, reference the traditional architecture and historic nature of old mining towns. (Photo/Bob Spencer)
Amendment 50 promises to pour millions into Colorado’s community colleges without raising taxes in an economy teetering towards recession. Why then, are so many people complaining that this gift horse has rotten teeth?

Amendment 50 would allow the gambling communities of Cripple Creek, Blackhawk and Central City to raise betting limits to $100, expand casino hours of operation, and introduce craps and roulette. Community colleges would get 78 percent of the increased tax revenue, with the balance going to the cities and counties where gaming takes place.

With a bursting statewide ballot this year, the measure hasn’t drawn as much attention as the more fever-pitched proposals — including anti-affirmative action, egg-as-a-person or a plethora of labor/business-related amendments. But anyone with a television and a Colorado address has seen the ads promoting this amendment. They feature a woman walking through a field, speaking in comforting tones about how it will benefit our community college system.

Colorado’s casinos are growing, even without the higher gambling limits proposed by Amendment 50. (Photo/Bob Spencer)
Colorado’s casinos are growing, even without the higher gambling limits proposed by Amendment 50. (Photo/Bob Spencer)
These spots are paid for by Coloradoans for Community Colleges, a philanthropic-sounding group with a donor list that looks like the casino section of the Gilpin County yellow pages: Golden Mardi Gras Inc., Horseshoe Casino and the Isle of Capri Casino Blackhawk.

In all, more than $7.5 million has been raised by the proponents of Amendment 50. The opposition, on the other hand, is making do with a couple of guys, a KeepVegasOut.com website and $0.

Jon Anderson and Scott Yates are the two-man team working diligently in opposition to Amendment 50.

“The television ads are misleading,” says Anderson. “This dramatically changes gambling in Colorado.”

“If they were trying to change the limits from $5 to $20 we probably wouldn’t have gotten involved,” he continues, “but increasing bets to $100, allowing casinos to stay open 24/7, and allowing craps and roulette, that’s too much. Most people who read what the amendment does, agree.”

Anderson worries that the increased stakes could have a negative impact on bankruptcies and suicides in the state.

He’s also concerned that tying funding for community colleges to gambling money is a bad idea.

“What if the casinos have a bad year?” he asks.

Tony Niehaus, poker tournament manager at the Gilpin Casino in Blackhawk, views things a little differently. He hopes the measure passes and will be a boon to his casino.

“It’ll be nice to get some new juice into town,” Niehaus says. “A lot of people feel like the game is tired and played out with $5 limits.”

Jeremy, who works as a cook in a Blackhawk casino and gave only his first name, also supports the measure. “It’ll bring a lot of money in,” he says.

On a recent trip to old mountain mining towns just west of Denver, gamblers walking from casino to casino echoed similar support. A recent Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 poll has 64 percent of Colorado voters supporting the proposal.

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