Colorado Springs Mayor Calls For Stronger State Constitution Laws to Block Casinos

Posted on: August 26, 2016, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: August 26, 2016, 01:38h.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has the perfect plan to stop amending the state Constitution and block gambling expansion. (Image: Pam Zubeck/Colorado Springs Independent)

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers (R) is reaching out statewide to voters urging them to support a November referendum that would make it drastically harder to amend the state’s Constitution.

If passed, the odds for any sort of future gambling expansion would be drastically reduced.

Suthers, who opposed the legalization of marijuana during his time as Colorado’s attorney general, is on a new crusade: to stop amending the state Constitution. To achieve that goal, he’ll ironically first need to amend the law.

Appearing in a new commercial campaign, Suthers opines, “The Founding Fathers made it hard to amend the United States Constitution, because they knew it set fourth fundamental rights that should be protected. The Colorado Constitution is a far different story.”

The campaign comes from the “Raise the Bar Protect Our Constitution” coalition. According to the group, the Colorado Constitution has been amended over 150 times, while the US Constitution has been altered just 27 times.

“Our state requires the same initiative process to amend our Constitution as our state laws,” the organization says on its website. “This framework has made Colorado’s ballot and Constitution among the most easily changed in the country.”

Former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace is also lending her support and appearing in a television spot.

Suthers Sulking

Colorado is one of only five states that have legal charitable, pari-mutuel, commercial, tribal, and racetrack gambling, as well as a state lottery. Tribes are permitted to operate casinos on their sovereign land, and localities are allowed to approve casino gambling though only three have done so.

The majority are small-scale gambling venues situated together in mountain towns like Black Hawk.

Suthers wants to keep it that way.

Officially known as Amendment 71, Raise the Bar wants to mandate that petitions to change the state Constitution receive signatures from at least two percent of voters in all 35 Senate districts. The general public would then need to vote in favor of the amendment by at least 55 percent.

Current law to move a petition forward requires five percent of the previous vote for secretary of state, but those signatures can be collected anywhere in Colorado.

Proponents for more stringent Constitution amendment laws argue groups presently go into Denver and Boulder to obtain the necessary John Hancocks, and those two cities doesn’t necessarily represent Coloradans as a whole.

If the Suthers coalition wins, amendments would seemingly become impossible. Gaining two percent support in every corner of the state, from the heavily conservative remote regions to the heavily liberal cities, might be the perfect recipe for inaction.

Weed Yay, Casinos Nay

In 2014, voters in Colorado passed Amendment 64, the “personal use and regulation of marijuana,” by a margin of 55.3 in favor to 44.7 percent opposed. But during that same election voters rejected a motion to expand gambling.

The owners of the Arapahoe Park horse track and 11 off-track betting parlors had sought permission from the general public to allow its facilities to incorporate slots and table machines, with 34 percent of total revenue going to support education.

The Arapahoe Park and off-track locations are owned by a group of investors based in Rhode Island.

“East Coast casinos tried to create a gambling monopoly in our Constitution,” Suthers concludes in the commercial. “It’s time to make sure constitutional amendments have broad public support.”

Voters were high on marijuana, but low on gambling.

The gaming amendment failed overwhelmingly as more than 70 percent of voters went against the motion.