Amendment 77 has been endorsed by large gaming companies and a PAC called Local Choice Colorado. A few editorial boards have voiced opposition, however only one local group has officially come out against Amendment 77.
The Centennial Institute is a conservative think tank founded at Colorado Christian University. Their voter guide recommends voting against Amendment 77 because they believe it will expand gambling. There are a few concerns that underlie the Centennial Institute’s opposition to Amendment 77.
Beliefs About Gambling’s Inherent Vices
To understand the Centennial Institute’s opposition to Amendment 77, we have to look back at their opposition to Proposition DD. In their 2019 ballot guide, the Centennial Institute wrote at some length about their perceived problems inherent to gambling. Part of the text stated:
“Gambling is sinful, it disproportionately harms the poor, is rooted in the sin of greed, and it leads to the breakdown of the family.”
That breaks their opposition to gambling as a first principle. The Centennial Institute seems to believe that:
- Gamblers are primarily motivated by greed.
- Gambling harms the poor.
- Families suffer from their kin gambling.
How Accurate Are These Claims?
Psychology Today reports that there are reasons people choose to gamble besides the hope of winning money. Gambling can be a social activity or a fun pastime in its own right. It doesn’t have to be about chasing profits. Gambling can also be a way for affluent people to show off how much money they can afford to lose. (Although, that’s motivated by the sin of pride as opposed to greed.) Universally attributing the desire to gamble to greed doesn’t match reported reasons for gambling.
The Centennial Institute improves its argument when it voices concern about gambling’s impact on the poor. Problem gamblers are more likely to come from impoverished neighborhoods than wealthy neighborhoods. It’s likely for similar reasons lower-income people spend more per capita on lottery tickets. Gambling offers a chance at massive wins. However, the fact that those odds are less-than favorable doesn’t always matter to gamblers. Gambling can become problematic when gamblers chase a jackpot through consistent losses. Problem gambling can tear families apart when money is thrown away in excess.
However, most gambling isn’t problem gambling. About 11% of poor gamblers are problem gamblers, compared to about 5% of wealthy gamblers. The way they write, the Centennial Institute seems to believe all gambling is problem gambling. Equating all gambling with problem gambling paints an inaccurate picture of the societal ills that stem from casinos, gambling, and its regulation.
However, its concern for families is the Centennial Institute’s strongest point. It’s also the crux of its critique of Amendment 77.
What Is Amendment 77?
Amendment 77 allows Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek residents to vote on new betting limits and casino games. Such changes currently require statewide voter approval. Amendment 77 would put it in the hands of casino city residents instead of the entire state. The Centennial Institute’s 2020 ballot guide doesn’t expound on its opposition like its 2019 guide. Instead, it has one caption next to Amendments C and 77:
“Gambling harms families and this expands gaming.”
This paints a broad brush with little detail compared to the 2019 guide. However, family harm is likely a stand-in for societal harm. The fear of gaming expansion, however, is misleading. Amendment 77 by itself doesn’t expand Colorado casinos. It allows casino city voters to vote on two casino issues. They may choose to expand casino games or increase betting limits. They may choose not to. But the Amendment puts the decision in their hands rather than expanding gaming outright.
That being said, it’s reasonable to think the casino city voters would expand it. Higher betting limits and new games would likely come with new games and potentially more tax revenue. Amendment 77 would direct those new revenue streams toward state education, which would probably tempt voters into voting for increased betting limits and new games. The Centennial Institute likely recognizes this and views Amendment 77 as an inevitable step toward gaming expansion.
Continued Concern For Societal Ills
The Centennial Institute has a few writings on Amendment 77. In a point/counterpoint piece in the Gazette, Director Jeff Hunt repeats much of the anti-gambling points that characterize the Centennial Institute’s opposition. However, he quoted one figure that stood out that was worth investigating:
“For every $1 of gambling revenue, the state must spend $3 on increased social services.”
That figure likely came from a report from the Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank. It cites the costs of introducing gambling as over $166 per adult and the benefits as less than $53 per adult. The report doesn’t say how these figures were calculated. The first bullet point states that the report consists of “independent research” that was “not funded by gambling or anti-gambling organizations.” Despite the author’s credentials, the lack of sourcing, context, and methodology in the report summary makes it a questionable source.
What Is Gambling’s Impact On Social Services?
A 2011 report to the Canadian Consortium for Gambling Research did a meta-study analyzing 492 gambling studies. The studies examined different socioeconomic impacts of introducing different types of gambling. Among their findings, the researchers found that introducing casinos increased:
- Government revenue.
- Public service revenue–with one important exception.
- Problem gambling.
The increased government revenue and public service revenue shouldn’t be surprising. Unfortunately, neither should the increase in problem gambling. Additional gambling outlets would give problem gamblers more ways to lose their money.
The exception to the increased public service revenue is important, too. Study 206 was an analysis of a tribal casino that opened in California. It found that the demand for public services related to problem gambling increased so much that it reduced the quality of the services the government could provide. There are potential solutions to that problem, like diverting more gambling revenue towards affected services or some other budget rebalancing. It could’ve been a poorly managed casino opening.
However, these problems came from casino openings, not higher betting limits or new games. It’s more than a semantic point. Most of the problem gambling increases happen when casinos are introduced, not after they grow. Any damage the Centennial Institute is concerned about is has likely already been done.
The Centennial Institute’s Arguments
The Centennial Institute opposes gambling as a first principle. It believes that it’s sinful to begin with and should therefore be rejected by voters. However, they also raise concerns about increased problem gambling that may accompany new betting limits. If casinos allow higher bets, they could enable problem gamblers to take bigger risks. That would damage theirs and their families’ lives.
Some of these concerns are easier to validate with data than others. There’s no single motivation for gambling and saying it’s bad as a first principle is tenuous. Implying that all gambling is problem gambling is misleading. However, they echo their concern for problem gamblers in other opposition pieces. One editorial board opposes Amendment 77 because it doesn’t fund any problem gambling programs.
But the $3 in social services for $1 in gambling revenue doesn’t seem credible. Without understanding how researchers derived those figures and the sample of gamblers that figure represents, it doesn’t survive fact-checking. Building new casinos could strain public services and problem gamblers without proper planning.
However, Amendment 77 only allows casino city residents to decide how to regulate their cities’ casinos. It doesn’t build new casinos. But Coloradans will have to weigh the Centennial Institute’s concerns when they cast their ballots over the next two weeks.
Interview requests sent to Centennial Institute Director Jeff Hunt were not returned.