Jerry Kopel


The last state amendment on the Nov. 5th ballot is Amendment 18, Limited Gambling in Trinidad, placed there by the courts after a two-year struggle with present casino operators who disputed validity of the initiative's signatures.

As expected, Gov. Romer is opposed to this constitutional amendment. That's almost a reflex action for the governor, like turning your head to see who is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater: Hear "casino", say "no". But that hasn't stopped the guv from taking campaign funds from the unmentionables.

The sad part about all this is that the governor truly does strongly hate was has happened, but was not able to stop lotto in 1988 nor casinos in 1990. And when objective history is written many decades from now, writers will point to Romer's tenure as the time when gambling obtained a major influence in Colorado.

Trinidad wants the casino district in order to save historic buildings. As stated in the amendment: "Trinidad possesses a unique collection of historic buildings located within the Corazon De Trinidad National Historical District which are in danger of imminent loss to posterity unless sufficient economic resources are soon available to restore and preserve them."

Foolish people! They will be "saved" as were the historic buildings in Central City...with a fake front and saturated inside with slot machines.

Trinidad is certainly more of a "real" community with 8,600 people compared to Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek. But what Trinidad will gain in additional revenues will eventually be paid out in the game of cops and robbers: More crime, more cops, more jails.

Trinidad argues that casinos will help the city attract tourists. Hogwash. Casinos are everywhere in this nation. They are no longer an attractive nuisance. People who visit Trinidad want the restful, laidback charm, not the frenzied hustle of Black Hawk.

Colorado has been down this road before, so we know what is going to happen. Some people will get very rich, some people will go bankrupt, some people will become compulsive gamblers, and another city will come under domination by outside gambling interests.

In a recent lucid column on Colorado's casino industry, Rebecca Cantwell of the Rocky Mountain News highlighted the turning point for casinos: The decision early on by the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission to ignore the written and spoken intent behind constitutional language limiting gambling to 35 percent of a building.

As Cantwell points out: "Commissioners excluded from the 35 percent limit anything that wasn't actually a gambling machine or its seating: The cashier's cage, the money vault, even aisles between the machines."

That decision wasn't made in a vacuum. The constitution and the statute gave Romer authority to pick commission members with consent of the senate. One might speculate: Did Romer pick and thoroughly question the applicants, or did he rubber stamp choices made by Revenue Director John Tipton, who left office soon after to work for an international Switzerland gambling conglomerate. Or was it a combination of interrogation and rubber stamping?

In any event, the buck stops at the chief executive who gets the credit or blame for the consequences.

The addition of Trinidad casinos wouldn't really upset Colorado legislators, many of whom are already hooked and addicted to casino tax revenues and are counting on more for future expenditures.

And the inclusion of Trinidad as a casino center would enhance the ability of present casino operations to increase the maximum bet above $5 when they finally present their constitutional amendment to the legislature (including legislators from southeast Colorado) or to the electors. But that requires a subtle sort of thinking.

Casino opponents should remember there is a branch of holistic medicine which claims the way to cure is to prescribe more of what ails you. Only when Colorado becomes oversaturated with the casino mentality will the citizens grab their pitchforks and toss out gambling operations.

Pragmatically, Trinidad doesn't stand a chance. Present casino operators will fund the opposition, the guv will decry its passage, and present casino operations will enlist support of the churches under the campaign motto: "Don't do as I as I say."

* * *

Cityslickers will like Amendment 14, which prohibits certain methods of killing or capturing wildlife. When we get close to election time, expect TV ads of soulful eyes on fuzzy beasts sure to tug at hearts.

I'm voting "no" on Amendment 14. It's a constitutional amendment, not an initiated statute. Colorado voters have amended their state constitution 113 times, and a large number of the 113 could have been adopted as statutes. Amendment 14 is definitely one of them and has no reason, nor should it have the RIGHT, to be in the constitution.

Certainly people behind Amendment 14 would say their choice was dictated by the unfriendly atmosphere regarding wildlife at the Colorado legislature, but fears of the legislature overturning an initiated statute are hypothetical, not actual.

Supporters will cite Amendment 10, the reduced bear season initiative passed by the voters in 1992. And in 1994, Rep. Lew Entz did introduce HB 1030 to change the initiated statute. But the House killed the bill in committee. Legislators might often be nasty, but they are NOT stupid.

If Amendment 14 fails on Nov. 5th, proponents should try it as an initiated statute in 1998.

(Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.)

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