Jerry Kopel

By Jerry Kopel

Suckers! You thought you drove a stake through the heart of Wembley's Racino-Tourism Donation scam. Well, vampires come in pairs.

Now that Wembley is down, casinos want to raise their $5 bet limit to $100, and toss an annual $25 million "bone" to the tourism industry. As with Wembley's plan, this takes a constitutional amendment.

When casinos opened in 1991, they were supposed to be "mom and pop" slots to rescue historic towns from degradation. A little money for public aid. The language was supposed to keep lots of space between slot machines to keep the number down, and the $5 limit was written in by casino backers to assure the public (and Las Vegas casinos) that this was no "big deal".

Well, the Gaming Commission interpreted the constitutional language to allow less space between slot machines, and away we soared.

The push for larger casino bet limits began in 1993. Charlie Roos of the Rocky Mountain News quoted then-Senator Sally Hopper, the chief legislative sponsor of "limited" gambling, telling her compatriots in 1990:

"We're not talking about casinos. We're talking about something that would enhance the Western flavor of these towns. We don't want whole buildings turned over to gambling. We're purposely making it unprofitable so that it won't attract the wrong sort of people."

The Las Vegas industry had actually supplied minor funds to oppose the ballot issue in November, 1990. But once on the books, big casinos began planning for unlimited bets on a wide range of games to be on the ballot in November, 1994. I don't know why, but casinos did back off in 1994, except for their insensitivity.

Dave Zamarin, then-director of sales for Peppermill Casino in Reno, Nev. told Steve Caulk of the News, Oct. 19, 1993 about the compulsive gambling issue:

"Do you close ice cream parlors because there are people who eat too much? The intentions of limited stakes are good, but it's like anything else; people have to have the freedom to make choices."

Compulsive gambling is like too much ice cream? Compulsive gambling is a recognized psychological addiction. I have to assume Mr. Zamarin never met an addiction he couldn't embrace.

The opening salvo for a 2004 ballot issue raising casino bet limits to $100 began with a Denver Post article Nov. 10th headlined "Tourism eyes casino money" which article was mostly pros with some cons on raising the $5 bet limit. (The Denver Post had endorsed the original casino ballot issue in 1990.)

The next salvo on raising limits for casino gambling came from Bob Ewegen on the Post editorial page. His column applauded the casino source for tourism money, ending with "When the legislature returns in January, the lawmakers should think hard about such a win-win situation (from $5 limit to $100 limit) to the tourism funding problem."

In fiscal year 1996, casinos had an adjusted gross profit of $401 million. In fiscal year 2003, it was $682 million. I'd love to have a stock that came through the depression with a 69 percent increase in adjusted gross profit.

Colorado Gaming Association President Lois Rice told the Post "the casinos will meet soon to begin hammering out a legislative agenda for the coming year." My advice to Ms. Rice: Don't try the legislature. You have the money to put it directly on the ballot by petition. People will sign almost anything.

The casinos can pour in millions for their cause in 2004 and there won't be any money to contest them. They are now one of the most powerful influences in state politics.

One last thought: It takes 20 times as long to lose $100 with a $5 limit.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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