Winter Park: Rep. Al White seeks expansion of gaming to fund higher eduction
Sky-Hi Daily News
Want to gamble the night away?
Well, if you’re in Colorado, all bets are off by 2 a.m. A constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1990 places a betting cap of $5 per game in Black Hawk, Central and Cripple Creek. The other deal is, the casinos are closed from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.
But Rep. Al White is proposing to change that amendment. His solution for enhancing funding for state colleges and universities is to allow gambling 24-7, and to raise the betting cap or get rid of it.
By making Colorado more of a “gaming destination,” White believes the state could raise about $100 million annually through gambling and put the money toward higher education.
“That amendment was passed in 1990 and hasn’t been revisited since. I think it’s time to take another look at it,” White said during a phone interview.
The original concern from voters, he added, was what the fallout would be if Colorado allowed gambling.
“Now that we’ve had nearly two decades to look at it, it’s not unreasonable to revisit it and see if citizens are willing to raise the considerations,” he said.
White, R-Winter Park, has his work cut out for him. He is proposing to change a constitutional amendment that defines casino hours, the games they allow and the betting limit. To amend the Colorado Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate before the question can be referred to voters on the 2008 ballot, he explained.
That being the case, it will probably take several weeks before White introduces the proposal, he said. Reps. Abel Tapia and Bernie Buescher are co-sponsors on the issue, he added.
Currently, tourism and the state’s historical society are the major beneficiaries of gambling revenues. White proposes to keep those beneficiaries the same plus interest, and dedicate the addition gambling revenues to higher education.
“I think higher education is at a huge risk to lose total state funding (in the future),” he said.
Robb Rankin, superintendent for the East Grand School District, said he would be in favor of something that makes higher education more affordable for students.
But unless a more consistent stream of funding is established, allowing larger gambling limits is a “temporary fix,” he said.
“It’s not a guarantee. I think education needs a guaranteed source of revenue,” Rankin said.
Still, Rankin understands the importance of an additional revenue source, and although the negative aspects of gambling are there, the bottom line is: People like to gamble, he said. He’s not entirely convinced the state should step in to “protect” people from gambling.
“Gambling is something no one forces you to do. And the public has spoken by allowing gambling in limited places,” Rankin said. “If it makes higher education more accessible for students, then I’m all for it. More funding … could (also) mean less tuition increases.”
In order to fund higher education, White doesn’t believe voters would approve a tax increase, and he sees his proposal a “solution that provides significant new dollars that doesn’t necessarily come from the wallets of Colorado citizens,” he said.
The proposal will meet opposition, of course. According to an article by the Associated Press, Chad Hills, analyst for gambling research and policy for the Christian ministry group Focus on the Family, called gambling a “cancerous cyst.”
“You can count on Focus on the Family to launch a full-fledged war against any legislator or legislation that promotes 24-7 gambling,” Hills told the Associated Press.
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