Aspen tourism officials mixed on support for Amendment 33
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Local tourism and travel officials have mixed feelings about Amendment 33 on tomorrow’s ballot, which would add revenue to the state’s open space and tourism coffers through new gambling devices at casinos and horse and dog tracks.
Colorado voters will decide Tuesday whether they support the ballot initiative that would implement video lottery, basically slot machines, at casinos and existing horse and dog tracks in Arapahoe County, Loveland, Commerce City, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. The game would be part of the Colorado Lottery system.
The revenue from the machines would first go to fund local parks and recreation, state parks and Greater Outdoors Colorado until the mandatory cap is reached. Leftover revenue of up to $25 million annually would go toward promoting Colorado tourism.
The amendment would end in 15 years unless extended by voters.
At a meeting of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors in October, the board agreed not to take an official position on the ballot question. Board chairman Rick Jones, an Aspen tax attorney, said while marketing money is always needed for the state, the amendment’s means of raising those dollars isn’t necessarily in the state’s best interest.
“I’m strongly supportive of additional dollars for marketing Colorado, but it’s an unfortunate nexus that’s being made between marketing funds and gambling,” he said.
Jones encouraged ACRA board members to make up their own minds about the ballot measure, since promoting gambling is a controversial issue.
“Next time I hope that the marketing funds stand on their own two feet,” Jones said. “Gambling has social, moral implications, and sadly this was brought about this way.
“If anything, it highlights the difficulty in getting a community to pay for marketing funds, and that may be something we’re looking at in the future ” not gambling, but marketing funds.”
Aspen’s own marketing funds come from a 1 percent lodging tax passed by local voters in 2000. Half of the tax goes toward mass transit in the Roaring Fork Valley, and the other half (about $400,000 per year) goes into a fund used by ACRA to market Aspen.
Jones said it’s apparent that Aspen does not have enough funds for marketing ” especially since there are resorts such as Vail that have millions to spend on marketing each year.
“Right now, our funds aren’t sufficient. But as we look at things, it seems to get back to that old saying, ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree,'” Jones said. “It’s all about getting somebody else to pay for it.”
Bill Tomcich, president of local reservation company Stay Aspen Snowmass, said his firm also does not have an official position on Amendment 33.
But he said the ballot issue is an opportunity to expand statewide marketing dollars without any local impacts.
“Frankly, I’m told it has a long shot of passing, but for those of us in Aspen, I personally believe it’s a measure we ought to support,” Tomcich said.
“I’m not speaking on behalf of this organization, but I see no reason why we shouldn’t support it,” he said. “If it passes it would only be good for Aspen.”
The state’s marketing efforts were discontinued in 1993 when voters chose not to renew the state’s tourism tax. Ever since, Tomcich said the state has struggled with marketing itself as a destination for travelers.
“There have been a number of measures since then to try to create a source for statewide tourism funding, and this is one of the largest I’ve seen,” he said. “It faces a great deal of opposition ” particularly on the Front Range, but I think we should try and support it here. It’s a great opportunity to expand tourism marketing dollars, and we’re not going to see any impacts locally.”
Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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