Jerry Kopel


The old warning used to be when someone knocks on your door and says "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you", beware. Today's warning is when someone hands you a petition to sign and says "please sign here to add more money for the environment, tourism, and education."

They might even say "through the lottery". If you bother to read before you sign, you will find the issue is adding VLTs (proponents' wording) or slot machines (opponents' wording) to race tracks. It will likely be on the ballot in November 2003.

VLT stands for Video Lottery Terminal. A little history might be useful. Let's review one 1994 Colorado initiative.

A gentleman named Harry Blasdel and four friends formed ARPT, LLC a limited liability company. They prepared and got on the ballot through petition Amendment 13 to amend the constitution and allow "10,000 limited gaming devices or tables" in Manitou Springs and in public airports. Those slot machines and blackjack tables would have been owned by ARPT, LLC. Airport slot machines would be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The money made would, of course, go to good causes (state general fund, school fund, Manitou Springs, etc.)

That's the prime pump for every gambling proposal in Colorado. Why doesn't someone put a gambling issue on the ballot and tell the public, "yes, this is going to make me a lot of money."

No county with a public airport or Manitou Springs would have been allowed to override by vote what Amendment 13 would do. So we have a monopoly naming the owners of the machines in the constitution.

It received sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot in November 1994. That says a lot about competency of registered voters who will sign any petition where the gatherer says "it's for education and state revenues". No one reads the proposed amendment.

Once the papers started explaining just what Amendment 13 did, the support dropped like a piece of iron in a lake. The final vote was 91,009 "yes" and 877,998 "no", a losing margin of 93.4 percent.

I am not coming from a neutral position. The worst mistake I made as a legislator was not opposing putting the lottery amendment on the ballot. I did oppose the lottery bill, lotto, powerball, and casinos.

I believe the race track proposition is a possible monopoly. Wembley USA, a subsidiary of a British firm, owns a horse track in Aurora, and dog tracks in Commerce City, Pueblo and Colorado Springs."

As usual, it is for good causes mentioned earlier in this column.

Zach Zaslow, a reporter for the weekly Colorado Statesman, reports Sen. Jack Taylor stating Wembley "is not behind the effort" in that there are other supporting groups. My guess is when all is reported, about 95 percent of the proponent's funds will come directly or indirectly from Wembley.

One question hasn't been asked yet. You pay out prizes from the total take. Of every dollar left in the machine, 61 percent goes to the state for good causes. So how much of the remaining 39 percent will go to Wembley?

If the proposition makes it on the ballot and passes, I expect the opponents to seek a temporary injunction over what the VLTs really are: lottery or slots. If the court decided opponents had a chance of winning a permanent injunction, it would grant a temporary one, with an obvious high bond charged (which the casinos could easily afford).

This should be a lot closer than the Manitou Springs fiasco, but I "bet" the casinos will win either at the polls or in court on the issue of slot machines not located in casinos violating the constitution.


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

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