Video lottery at horse racing tracks unconstitutional, casinos say of bill

DENVER — A bill to allow horse racing tracks to operate video lottery terminal machines in the state is unconstitutional, opponents of the measure told a House committee Wednesday.

The measure, HB1280, would allow up to three video lottery terminal, or VLT, gambling houses, but not necessarily on actual racetracks, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

The House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee took testimony on the measure but did not vote on it.

Committee chairman Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling and a cosponsor of the measure, denied the vote was delayed because he and Coram lacked the votes to get it passed.

Opponents of the measure, primarily owners of casinos in the three gambling towns in the state, said VLT machines are virtually indistinguishable from slot machines. As a result, the bill violates the constitutional amendment that limited casino gambling to Cripple Creek, Blackhawk and Central City.

“That law says that if it’s a slot machine, it falls under article 18, section 9 of the Colorado Constitution and is therefore prohibited anyplace other than the three permissible gaming cities,” Blackhawk City Attorney Corey Hoffman said. “The plain language of the definition of video lottery terminal ... falls under the definition of slot machines. It’s a video game of chance.”

Proponents, however, said there is a clear difference between VLT machines and slot machines, but that’s not really the point. They said after limited-stakes casino gambling was approved by Colorado voters in 1990, it took business away from horse-racing tracks in the state, destroying an industry in the process.

Diane Schwenke, executive director of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the state can sustain both.

“The premise that I saw in a lot of the opposition is that the gaming pie, the Colorado gamblers currently visiting the three communities with limited gaming, is the extent of the pie,” Schwenke told the committee. “I would submit to you, the pie could actually be much larger to the benefit of the entire state.”

The measure would allow up to three VLT gambling houses in the state, each with up to 2,500 machines. They would be located on the Western Slope, in the Pueblo area and somewhere in the Denver-Fort Collins area.

Each could be owned by anyone who already holds a license to operate a horse-racing track.

It has not been determined when the committee will vote on the bill.

Coram said the intent is to use money earned from such a facility to get the needed capital to build a horse track, including somewhere between Grand Junction and Montrose.


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