Racetrack v. Casinos Amendment Holds Rank as Most Expensive Issue

The pitched battle between gambling interests in the mountain casino towns of Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk and the Rhode Island owners of the Arapahoe Park horse racing track continues to draw huge sums of money.

Should voters pass Amendment 68 on Nov. 4, the racetrack would be allowed to install up to 2,500 slot machines, making it the largest casino in Colorado and with its Arapahoe County location providing easier access for many Front Range gamblers.

Jockeys and race horses walk to the starting gate before the last race of the day at Arapahoe Park horse racing track in Aurora, Colo., on Friday afternoon, July 18, 2014. More than $11 million dollars has been spent by supporters and opponents of a ballot initiative to expand gambling in Colorado to race tracks. Initiative 135, if passed this fall by Colorado voters, would allow Arapahoe Park to add 2,500 slot machines to its Arapahoe County horse racing facility, effectively making it the largest casino in the state.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

Jockeys and race horses walk to the starting gate before the last race of the day at Arapahoe Park horse racing track in Aurora, Colo., on Friday afternoon, July 18, 2014. More than $11 million dollars has been spent by supporters and opponents of a ballot initiative to expand gambling in Colorado to race tracks. Initiative 135, if passed this fall by Colorado voters, would allow Arapahoe Park to add 2,500 slot machines to its Arapahoe County horse racing facility, effectively making it the largest casino in the state.

The casino towns say that kind of competition would be unfair. Their “Don’t Turn Racetracks into Casinos” organization has now raised $16.1 million and spent $12 million and change against Amendment 68, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office Sept. 2.

A similar initiative was introduced in 2003 to Colorado voters, who rejected the gaming expansion by a 4-1 margin. This time around, proponents have sweetened the pot by promising 34 percent of the net income from the new slot machines, or an estimated $114 million annually, to the Colorado K-12 education fund.

They’ve also changed their name this time. “Coloradans for Better Schools” has now raised more than $12.5 million, and has also spent $12 million and change. The sole contributor for these Coloradans continues to be Mile High USA, the owner of the racetrack.

The major contributors on the other side are parent companies, mostly out-of-state, of the mountain casinos. They include Ameristar, headquartered in Las Vegas, which has contributed $5.1 million, and Isle of Capri with $4.1 million, out of St. Louis.

Jacobs Entertainment of Golden has contributed $3.3, Monarch Casino and Resort of Reno, Nev. has ponied up $1.8 million, and Affinity Gaming of Las Vegas is down for $1.3 million in contributions. Other casino groups that have contributed less than one million dollars include Horseshoe Casino, Wildwood Casino, Wild Card Saloon and Bronco Billy’s.

The $28 million focused on the racetrack v. casinos issue keeps it the most expensive ballot measure going forward in this fall’s election.

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