By Rick Langenberg:
Commission Chairman testifies at hearing
Teller County and Cripple Creek have won the first legislative battle by default in the fight against Gilpin County and Black Hawk over millions of dollars in gambling distribution money.
Teller clearly was declared the undisputed victor in round one, especially when their “Goliath” opponent, a big proponent of huge Las Vegas casinos, didn’t arrive with a weapon.
A much anticipated state Senate Finance hearing in Denver last week was somewhat uneventful because an expected amendment, estimated at costing Cripple Creek and Teller County a estimated $2.5 million collectively in revenue a year, and possibly leading to the demolition of many historic structures, never transpired. Due to pending face-to-face opposition and scrutiny from key legislators, Democratic Senator Jeanne Nicholson, who represents Gilpin County area, refrained from introducing a proposal that could achieve for Gilpin and Black Hawk legislatively what they couldn’t do in court. At issue last week was gaming sunset legislation that allows the gaming division to continue until 2022 and sets some new guidelines and definitions. For several weeks, insiders predicted that Gilpin state representatives were preparing an unpleasant legislative surprise for Teller County, as part of this package. But the delay in the proceedings in the ongoing Teller/Gilpin showdown may just serve as a temporary reprieve.
“It was an initial victory for us, but is far from over,” said Cripple Creek City Administrator Ray White, in describing the failure of this pro-Gilpin amendment to get voted on or discussed. He and other officials fear that Gilpin, through state leaders, is trying to take a legislative end-run to “steal” more gaming tax monies from the city of Cripple Creek and Teller County. “They are trying to do legislatively what they couldn’t do in court,” said White, in describing the ongoing campaign of Gilpin to change the way gaming revenues are distributed to add more monies to their coffers by siphoning off monies that currently go to Cripple Creek, Teller County and Central City. In essence, Gilpin argues that revenues should be distributed based on the amount of gaming taxes collected, rather than by the volume of adjusted gross proceeds generated in the gaming towns. Under this proposed system, Gilpin and Black Hawk would retain a much larger chunk of the gaming revenue pie. “We are very concerned This would have a very significant economic impact on us,” added White, who recently addressed the Cripple Creek City Council regarding this issue.
Similar sentiments were echoed last week by Teller County Commission Chairman Dave Paul, who testified at the senate hearing. He referred to Gilpin’s reported legislative tactic as the “latest attempt to take our money.” But whether it was because the entire Teller board of commissioners showed up at the hearing or other political reasons, such as a lack of needed votes to pass the alternative distribution measure, Gilpin representatives weren’t ready to unveil their cards at last week’s hearing. However, Paul took the opportunity to voice his concerns before the Finance Committee. “It was somewhat awkward,” added the commission chairman in describing the task he faced in testifying regarding the possibility of a legislative measure that wasn’t presented.
But like White, he believes this pending pro-Gilpin legislative effort isn’t over, with the prospects of this package appearing at a different time during the current session. During his testimony last week, Paul basically stressed the arguments advocated by Teller leaders regarding this issue for the last several years. Some of these deal with the current revenue distribution system following the intent of the original gaming law; the fact that this disputed matter has been argued continuously by the gaming division, the gaming commission, the Denver District Court and Colorado Court of Appeals, with a firm victory for Teller’s position; and that the proposed change would favor Goliath-style gaming interests and wipe out smaller operators and possibly lead to the destruction of historic buildings. “It was a good day,” said Paul, who believes his arguments made a positive impression. And in an unrelated matter, the commission chairman stated that a proposed technical definition under the new gaming sunset law calls for video lottery terminals (VLTs) to be classified as gaming devices. As a result, future VLTs would come under the jurisdiction of the gaming commission and not the lottery commission.
That could amount to good news in Cripple Creek’s long-term battle to keep VLTs from invading race tracks. To date, no VLT measures have advanced in the 2013 legislative session. For the last several years, Cripple Creek has faced the threat of thousands of video slots ringing at race tracks in the Front Range, without a vote of the people. However, White said he fears that a VLT package will probably come forth again within the next two months.
For that reason and due to the pending Gilpin County situation, the city, with the help of other entities, has retained a lobbyist. In addition, White said that both Cripple Creek and Teller County have been quite united in dealing with the Gilpin/Black Hawk threat.