Cripple Creek re-loading legislative guns in battle over historic preservation Rick Langenberg

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Cripple Creek is bringing out the legislative weapons in its fight to maintain a level gaming playing field.

Although no fingers are being pointed officially, the effort could re-charge the legal gun fire between the Creek and Black Hawk, the perennial Goliath of Colorado limited stakes gaming. For years, concerns have mounted regarding how fair Black Hawk plays in maintaining historic guidelines, and in adhering to the original intent of the gambling law. The historic controversy escalated with the development of the 33-story Ameristar resort, a project that many have compared to Las Vegas-style developments.

Many have accused Black Hawk of making a mockery out of the original goal of maintaining the historic character of the gaming towns. In addition, both Teller and Gilpin counties have squared off legally on how gaming revenue is distributed.

City officials, including head administrator Ray DuBois and Finance Director Paull Harris, recently testified before a legislative hearing conducted by the state Senate Finance Committee regarding a new bill, aimed at dong something that leaders have been lobbying for in the last five years: clarifying how historic preservation dollars can be used in the gaming communities.

In a later interview, DuBois described the effort as a way to provide more transparency in the way preservation funds are handled by the gaming communities. He stated that the effort has received good reviews by lawmakers. The bill has scaled the preliminary legislative hurdles and has now moved before the state House Finance Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Kevin Grantham of Canon City and Representative Polly Lawrence of Douglas County, would provide the state auditor office authority to conduct post-audits and performance audits related to the monies transferred to the state historical fund for the preservation and restoration of the three gaming towns – Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk.

Cripple Creek leaders last year sought efforts to have the state auditor’s office to take a more aggressive role in examining the use of these funds. But late last year, this effort hit a slight legal snag, with the state unable to do these audits without more direction from the lawmakers.
If this bill moves forward, Cripple Creek would gain more guidance in the preservation arena. This may put the clamp on some of the funding pursuits by Black Hawk and Gilpin County.

At issue is how historic grant monies, authorized through the gambling amendment, are used in the gaming communities. Cripple Creek leaders have questioned certain historic funding projects in Black Hawk, such as using these monies to fund major residential upgrades of properties owned by local elected leaders and allocating these monies towards major city infrastructure expenses.

Cripple Creek officials, meanwhile, stand strongly behind the way these funds have been used locally in the Creek.

Harris, the town’s finance director, has repeatedly said that the town needs more guidance from the state regarding the use of historic preservation funds. Also, he and other officials want to establish a fair playing field in the gaming arena.

Black Hawk and Gilpin County have continued to dominate the gaming revenue chart and generate the far majority of the gambling market share. But some historic preservation advocates question if the town is playing with a rigged deck.