Ballot proposal promotes tourism, but at what price? | AspenTimes.com
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Ballot proposal promotes tourism, but at what price?

A ballot proposal that would expand gambling in Colorado and raise funds to promote tourism is earning support of many tourism-related businesses, but caution in Aspen.

Voters statewide will determine in November whether video lottery terminals with games such as poker, blackjack and bingo should be allowed at five dog and horse racetracks in the Front Range. The proposal is called Amendment 33.

In return for approval, proponents are promising up to $25 million annually for tourism promotion, up to $31.3 million for local parks, $7.8 million for state parks, $6.1 million for the Great Outdoors Colorado program for open space, and $8 million for schools.

The racetrack operators would reap an estimated $59 million annually.

The appeal of increasing tourism dollars has earned support from Colorado Ski Country USA, the marketing association for the state’s ski industry. Also in support are the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, the Colorado River Outfitters Association and the Vail Valley Tourism and Convention Bureau.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association has yet to take a stand.

“On the surface supporting tourism sounds like the right thing to do,” said Rick Jones, chairman of ACRA’s board of directors.

But on further review, he said, the proposal might just be a way to get more slot machines in Colorado.

ACRA’s board recently asked chamber president Hana Pevny to research the issue for a discussion at the October meeting. Aspen Skiing Co. officials didn’t respond to a request for a position on Amendment 33.

While there is apparently room for debate about whether raising funds is worth increasing gambling in the state, there’s little doubt that help is needed with statewide marketing efforts, Jones said.

Colorado used to raise millions of dollars annually for tourism promotion by charging 20 cents per $100 of sales of tourist-related goods and services like ski lift tickets, lodging and restaurants. That fee ended in 1993, and funding to the Colorado Tourism Office has fluctuated between $5 million and $6 million per year.

Proponents of Amendment 33 contend that isn’t enough. A group called, somewhat confusingly, Support Colorado’s Economy and Environment says the state has suffered a huge decline in popularity among tourists due to lack of marketing.

“In fact, in the 10 years since we quit marketing Colorado, we’ve slipped from the third most popular travel destination in the country to 22nd,” their campaign literature says. “That decline cost Colorado billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.”

This new mechanism will raise marketing dollars without new taxes. The group sent a direct-mail piece to Colorado households promoting a “yes” vote.

Foes are countering with the argument that the increased marketing budget isn’t worth the expansion of gambling. The proposal would add the video gaming terminals in Loveland, Commerce City, Aurora, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

From a parochial view, the tourist-dependent West Slope of Colorado could approve the gambling with little worry because it affects only Front Range cities. But gambling usually spurs wider-spread feelings.

Most of the local governments that are affected by the proposal complain that they wouldn’t get increased revenues to deal with issues like increased crime and social consequences.

An independent review of the ballot proposal, by the Colorado Legislative Council, is available at http://www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/lcsstaff/balpage.htm.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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