Checking the claims in Amendment 68 ads

A rendering of the proposed expanded gaming at the Arapahoe horse track.

This November, Coloradans will vote on Constitutional Amendment 68.

The amendment, which would add casino-style gaming to an Arapahoe County horse racing track, has sparked a media battle between casinos.

The campaign against Amendment 68 is funded by Colorado’s mountain casinos in towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.

Their fear is for major revenue loss if the Aurora site becomes a Denver metro-area gambling destination.

The campaign for Amendment 68 is funded by a Rhode Island-based company looking to get into the game in Colorado. The company that owns the Arapahoe track actually wrote Amendment 68.

Their ads made a lot of strong statements, so we checked out the truth behind their claims.

FOX21 News Fact Check

Let’s start with the ads in support of 68.

STATEMENT: “Voting ‘yes’ permits expanded gaming at no more than three horse racetracks that already have wagering.”
That’s a true statement with key piece of information missing.

Amendment 68 allows one racetrack-gaming venue each in Mesa County, Pueblo County, and Arapahoe County.

The big “but…” is that the Arapahoe track is the only one that already exists.

What’s misleading is that in order to have a track/casino like the one that’s proposed in the other two locations, there are a lot of ground rules to clear.

The amendment states you’d need to open a horse racetrack, and operate with a license for 5 years without the casino part before getting the limited gaming license.

You’d also have to pay $25 million to the K-12 fund within the first 30 days of gaming as a start-up fee, which the Arapahoe venue will pay, too.

STATEMENT: “Amendment 68 would provide more than $114 million every year to K-12 schools.”
That one is incomplete.

The $114 million figure comes from forecasting by the Innovation Group, which is a gaming market research group.

The Colorado General Assembly’s nonpartisan research staff did verify and accept that projection. But the taxes are estimated at just $82 million for 2015, and then 114 million for the years after.

Here’s the other catch: it’s estimated the Arapahoe track-casino will take business away from existing mountain town casinos, which in turn takes away from programs funded by casino tax dollars.

Those include historic preservation, community colleges, tourism promotion and the state’s general fund.

STATEMENT: “The money will be distributed to every school district to be used as they determine on a per student basis.”
That’s accurate.

34% of the horsetrack casinos tax revenue will go to K-12 fund. The way it’s written school districts can use the money to “address local needs.”

That could be on facilities, reducing class size, technology, school security or other programs, the amendment says.

It also has a clause requiring the state auditor to conduct an annual financial audit of the K-12 fund.

The taxes break down to a little less than $100 of new money per student. You can decide if that’s huge to you.

As for the ads against the amendment, the state’s existing casinos call it a “bad deal for Colorado.”

STATEMENT: “Amendment 68 will turn “a small horse track near Aurora into a Las Vegas style casino.”
That’s a matter of your perception, and a bit vague.

Amendment 68 would add at least 2,500 slot machines to the Arapahoe track, which is more than any existing casino in the state. For comparison’s sake, the largest casino in Colorado is Ameristar with 1,500 slots.

Consider, however, that 8,344 slots saturate the small town of Black Hawk, which has a population of just 118.

STATEMENT: The Amendment creates this casino-track venue “without local community approval.”
That’s true. A vote to pass Amendment 68 is a vote to allow a combination horse track casino in Arapahoe, Pueblo and Mesa counties.

While local voters do have some say over the operation of existing casinos in the state, Amendment 68 specifically allows local governments to impose a one-time impact fee, or an annual impact on the venues for any costs the city incurs from the casino.

Those have to be “established through negotiations between a horse race track and the host community,” however.

STATEMENT: Amendment 68 is raising “Colorado gambling dollars for a financially floundering Rhode Island casino.”
That’s true, as well. However, the same argument can be made about Colorado’s other casinos.

The company that owns the Arapahoe track, Twin River Worldwide Holdings, Inc. is based in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

The Providence Journal reported: “The proposed Colorado ballot initiative is part of Twin River’s efforts to bolster its Lincoln casino against a coming onslaught of competition from Massachusetts.” The article also had a quote from the company’s chairman saying it will solidify their position in Rhode Island.

It’s also worth pointing out that existing casinos in Colorado, who are paying for the “no” campaign on Amendment 68, also have out of state owners.

Ameristar is owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. in Nevada, Isle of Capri in Black Hawk is owned by Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc. headquartered in Missouri, Monarch in Black Hawk is owned by Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc. in Nevada, and the list goes on. 

Whatever bubble you fill in on that ballot, just remember both sides have millions at stake in this fight.

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