Commissioners Worry About Legislative Gaming Threats

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

 

So much for a gaming tax truce, and the possibility of local elected leaders not having to make constant trips to Denver to see what legislative disasters are in the works.

Last week, the sudden resignation of state Democratic Senator Evie Hudak of Jefferson County, who faced a probable recall election, promptly shut the door on the chances of Colorado Republicans grabbing control of at least one legislative body. The Democrats only had a one-seat edge in the state Senate, and would have lost this advantage if Hudak got booted out and replaced by a Republican contender as most political insiders predicted. With Hudak’s decision to step down, the state Democrats can appoint a replacement, allowing their party to still control the state House, Senate and the governor’s office.

Some GOP leaders aren’t happy with this scenario and are accusing state Democrats of behaving like cowards.

For Teller County Commission Chairman Dave Paul, a stanch Republican, this political reality means another year of having to worry about state lawmakers trying to snag gaming impact dollars and legislation moving forward that would allow Gilpin County to “steal” tax dollars from Teller and the city of Cripple Creek. “We will not dodge the bullet,” said Paul, during last week’s regular commissioners meeting, in discussing the impact of the Hudak resignation. “We will not have a legislative session (in 2014) with a conservative balance,” added Paul, in referring to the Democrats having control of the three legislative bodies in Colorado.

As a result, Paul indicated that the commissioners will have to continue to closely monitor legislation dealing with gaming impacts, dollars that the county and many nonprofits have relied on in the past, as well an effort by Gilpin County to change the way gambling tax dollars are distributed.

The latter effort has been closely scrutinized by the commissioners and by the city of Cripple Creek, who hired a lobbyist to fight the pro-Gilpin County bid. Gilpin officials say the current gambling distribution system isn’t fair. Moreover, they have favored a gaming allocation plan that would greatly benefit Gilpin County and the city of Black Hawk, where the largest casinos in Colorado are located.

If they win their case at the legislative level, then Teller County and Cripple Creek could face a reduction of more than $2.5 million-plus collectively in gambling revenue a year. This Gilpin plan has already been rejected by the state gaming commission, the gaming division staff and by several courts. However, Democratic state Senator Jeanne Nicholson last year mulled an aggressive plan to have lawmakers approve this altered distribution system as part of another bill, without a vote of the people.

This plan was scrapped last spring at the 11th hour, but Paul fears it could return, especially with a Democratic-controlled legislature

Besides the Gilpin measure, the commissioners and Cripple Creek leaders will have to watch for a return of video lottery terminal (VLT) legislation, permitting race and dog tracks to house thousands of video slots. The VLT menace has been described by local casino owners as a definite death blow to the Cripple Creek gaming industry. Last year marked the first time a VLT bill wasn’t unveiled in several years. Leaders aren’t hopeful about experiencing a VLT-free session in 2014, especially with a Democratic-controlled legislature. And as in past years, local leaders will have to put a tighter grip on their gaming-impact wallet that generates big dollars for the Teller jail, local roads and infrastructure, the city of Victor and a spree of nonprofits. Some officials are worried that Democratic state leaders may want to seize these funds to use this money for other purposes.