Just days before voters in Colorado head to the polls to decide the fate of Proposition DD, a ballot initiative that, if approved, would permit sports betting there, State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg is voicing opposition to the plan.
It may appear that Sonnenberg, a Republican, is against Prop DD on a purely partisan basis. Both bodies of Colorado’s legislature are controlled by Democrats, and earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, signed off on the bill allowing for the sports betting question to be put on the Nov. 5 ballot. However, there’s more to the story.
Prop DD is being pitched as an avenue to plug a $100 million gap in Colorado’s annual water budget. Sonnenberg, widely viewed as one of the foremost water experts in the state legislature regardless of political affiliation, says sports betting isn’t the way to tend to the state’s increasing water needs.
Just like Prop CC, the Legislature can raid funds set aside for water and use them for something else,” said the state senator in an interview with Colorado Politics. “And they have in the past — since 2002, $322 million dollars specified for water projects has been spent elsewhere.”
Prop CC, which will also be on next week’s ballot, if approved, will allow Centennial State lawmakers “to retain revenue above the state spending cap to provide funding for transportation and education,” according to Ballotpedia.
Supporters And Detractors
Prop DD has garnered bipartisan support in recent months among industry groups and local media. Colorado’s farmers and ranchers, who depend on a steady water supply to fuel $40 billion in annual economic activity, were among the initiative’s earliest supporters, and a slew of newspaper editorial boards across the state have jumped on board, too.
Opposition to the sports betting ballot plan has also been bipartisan. Last month, the Centennial Institute, a conservative think tank based in Colorado, denounced Prop DD, saying legalized betting “damages the foundation of athletic competition and invites corruption.”
Likewise, the left-leaning Coloradans for Climate Justice said the ballot effort isn’t environmentally friendly. Other groups against the proposal point to the funding sources for the Yes on DD campaign, noting that bulk of the cash raised by the group has come from the gaming industry.
Another obvious question pertaining to Prop DD is how the remainder of the water shortfall will be filled in even if sports betting is approved. As noted above, Colorado’s water budget is light by $100 million. But even if the highest estimates are attained, the state’s annual benefit from sports betting would be around $20 million.
“Let’s assume that we can trust the Legislature to spend this money on the water plan,” said Sonnenberg in the Colorado Politics interview. “Will that money be used to build storage? Or will it fund other projects, such as removing water from agriculture for recreation or in-stream flows or urban growth?”
Sonnenberg, who has been a member of the legislature since 2006, was publicly neutral on Prop DD until recently.
Assuming voters approve it, sports betting likely wouldn’t be operational in Colorado until May 2020 at the earliest.