Teller/Gilpin war rekindled

Rick Langenberg

The legal guns are getting reloaded in the familiar fight over the allotment of gambling revenue, capping a familiar feud between Teller and Gilpin counties, with Cripple Creek playing a big commanding role in the battle.

Lee Phillips, the city attorney for Cripple Creek, recently delivered the bad news that some elected leaders probably expected: Gilpin is refusing to throw in the towel in its bid to snag more gambling dollars from Cripple Creek, Teller County and even Central City. Gilpin County officials have argued that the current method for allocating gambling tax dollars is unconstitutional and they want a higher portion of the pie since the biggest casinos that generate the most revenue are located in Black Hawk, part of Gilpin. Black Hawk has supported Gilpin in this fight. At issue is the definition of “gaming revenue.”

Despite losing a spree of court verdicts and policy decisions by the state gambling commissioners, the gaming division staff and Colorado lawmakers, Gilpin has announced a plan to appeal a recent ruling made by a Denver District Court judge.

The latest decision, rendered in March, was quite firm, with Denver District Court Judge Bruce Jones giving Gilpin officials a legal tongue lashing, accusing them of “an intentional effort to mislead the court” and “creative (legal) drafting to conceal the fact that the issue had been previously addressed by the (gaming) commission.”

But at the same time, the judge didn’t close the door on the option of more appeals in this case.

According to Phillips, Gilpin has indicated it will pursue this option in deciding to take its case before the Colorado Court of Appeals. This action wasn’t overly surprising for city officials.

Cripple Creek Councilman Terry Wahrer sarcastically quipped during a recent meeting that the judges have to be getting tired of this fight. “I know the attorneys are,” replied Phillips.

For several years, city and county officials have viewed this fight as an uphill legal battle for Gilpin. At the same time, they can’t get overly optimistic and have allocated thousands of dollars into legally fighting Gilpin County and the city of Black Hawk. If Gilpin prevails, Teller County and the city of Cripple Creek could lose more than $2.5 million in combined gaming revenue a year, according to some estimates.

The fight further accelerates an ongoing battle between Cripple Creek and Black Hawk, which have engaged in a legal and financial tug of war during the last five years. During a recent council meeting, a lobbyist for Cripple Creek reported much progress in efforts to force the state to do an audit on how historic preservation dollars are allocated in the three gaming communities.

This effort hasn’t tried to point any fingers. But most government observers see this as a definite assault against Black Hawk by Cripple Creek. City officials for the last few years have complained that Black Hawk has abused the system for using historic dollars granted by the state. Also, allegations have surfaced about new goliath casino projects, like the 33-story Ameristar resort, that make a mockery of historic preservation guidelines approved by the voters of Colorado.

As a result, Creek leaders argue about an unfair gambling playing field.

The push for a state-wide audit of preservation monies could occur next year.

In other legislative updates, it was noted at a recent meeting that the three gambling communities have prevailed in a legislative effort to ban Internet Cafes from offering devices that feature simulated gambling games such as video slots.

These outlets, located throughout Colorado, had many gaming operators crying foul. The new legislation, House Bill 1047, prohibits these cafes from taking payments in exchange for providing the use of a “simulated gambling device” to anyone. According to the bill, the machines are designed to evade Colorado laws prohibiting many gambling activities that can only occur in the three gaming towns. Cripple Creek leaders lobbied hard for the legislation, as they viewed Internet Sweepstakes Cafes as illegal, mini-casinos disguised as something else.