Cripple Creek/Black Hawk Gambling War Still Raging 24/7 Cocktail Service Declared a Big Success – Rick Langenberg

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The ongoing gambling tax war between Teller and Gilpin counties, which has further drawn the Cripple Creek/Black Hawk battle lines, continues non-stop with little hope for a truce.

However, local officials are confident that a forthcoming court verdict may finally end the five-year fight.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals, pertaining to the debate over how gaming tax revenue is distributed, may not occur for six months, according to preliminary estimates.

Regardless, the battle lines have gotten more intense with Cripple Creek also seeking a state audit of the way historic preservation monies have been allocated by the gambling towns, an obvious attack against the past practices of Black Hawk, where the state’s mega, Las Vegas-style casinos are located. In addition, Cripple Creek has tried to gain a slight promotional edge on Black Hawk by becoming the first gaming district in the state to offer 24/7 cocktail service.

Legal fight continues
The main legal issue at stake is the definition of “gaming revenue,” with Gilpin officials arguing that the current method for allocating gambling tax dollars is unconstitutional. Moreover, Gilpin wants a higher portion of the pie since the biggest casinos that generate the most tax money are located in Black Hawk, which has joined them in this fight. If they win this battle, Cripple Creek and Teller County would collectively lose more than $2.5 million a year in tax proceeds.

But Gilpin has faced an uphill legal battle, with the Colorado Gaming Division staff, the gambling commissioners, the courts and even state legislators giving their bid a cold response. They have supported both Cripple Creek and Teller County in the fight, contending that the current system of allocating revenue, based on gross adjusted proceeds, is what was approved by the Colorado voters in 1990.

But Gilpin has refused to throw in the towel, even after getting a legal tongue lashing by a Denver District Court judge. Last March, Judge Bruce Jones accused Gilpin 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.”

However, the judge didn’t close the door on the option of more appeals in this case.

And Gilpin County has again asked for a reconsideration of this verdict before the Colorado Court of Appeals. As in the past, Cripple Creek and Teller officials are cautiously optimistic, but don’t believe the case will get resolved anytime soon.

But according to Cripple Creek city attorney Lee Phillips, the latest Gilpin maneuver could amount to its last legal stand in the fight. If they lose this appeal, then the only legal option they have is to take their case before the Colorado Supreme Court..

And according to Phillips, the possibility of the Supreme Court hearing this is extremely unlikely. “The Supreme Court typically only hears about 7 percent of the cases presented to them,” said Phillips.

Historic Preservation and 24/7 Cocktail Service
This isn’t the only showdown between Cripple Creek and Black Hawk.

In an unrelated issue, Cripple Creek is also pursuing a side attack by asking for a more thorough investigation of the use of historic preservation monies in the gaming towns.

Although no names have been mentioned in their request, this is an obvious attack against Black Hawk. In recent years, Black Hawk has been accused of making a mockery of state preservation guidelines and using these monies for questionable purposes, such as renovating the homes of elected leaders and paying for city infrastructure.

However, in their effort to seek more state oversight, Cripple Cree has hit a slight snag, according to City Administrator Ray DuBois. He stated that some concerns have been raised regarding the right of the state auditor’s office to review gaming tax monies.

Still, Cripple Creek isn’t giving up this fight. Previously, the city sought to pursue legislation that would tighten up the historic preservation process and further define how these funds could be used.

For the last few years, Cripple Creek has had a rocky relationship with Black Hawk, regarded as the dominant champ of limited stakes gaming.

City officials have complained that Black Hawk isn’t playing by the same rules. This became apparent with the development of the 33-story Ameristar resort, a project that many compared with mega casinos in Las Vegas.

On the upside, Cripple Creek has recently gained a competitive edge in the area of 24/7 common consumption areas and a designated entertainment district, allowing the serving of alcoholic beverages in participating casinos around-the-clock. Cripple Creek has become the first gaming district and overall downtown area in Colorado that has gained this right to have 24/7 drinking establishments.

According to the Cripple Creek Casino Association, this new development of common consumption areas is working quite well. In fact, all members of the Cripple Creek Casino Association now have common consumption licenses, which require them to form promotional associations. Johnny Nolon’s and Colorado Grande are the only casinos in town where 24/7 cocktail service is not permitted.

In a press release, the association lauded the new change.

“We are very excited to see extended hours of alcohol sales approved in Cripple Creek,” said Eric Rose, general manager of Century Casino and a leader of the association. “We have seen an immediate increase in casino revenues due to the additional service and convenience of 24-hour alcohol sales. No more last call certainly allows more freedom for our guests who want to stay out later, or are just getting off from work themselves.”

And despite the later hours and increase in visitors, law enforcement officials haven’t expressed any concerns. “The impact on law enforcement and other emergency services has been minimal,” said Cripple Creek Police Chief Mike Rulo, according to a CC Casino Association press release. He reports that the city hasn’t experienced any increase in alcohol-related incident. “We have increased foot patrols in the gaming district to gauge the impact of the extended hours of alcohol service, and continue to collaborate effectively with casino staff to ensure the safety of our citizen and visitors,” added Rulo.