Cripple Creek May Turn to Legal Pot for Fiscal Relief – Rick Langenberg

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In the wake of the 2016 election and a lean lineup of betting devices, the city of Cripple Creek may turn to legal pot for a few fiscal solutions.
Last week, a Cripple Creek budget meeting took an unexpected turn with a discussion over the prospects of allowing a few recreational marijuana shops to help generate needed revenue. No action was taken by the council, but the idea of reversing its previous anti-reefer stand received some support.
Regardless of personal feelings regarding the marijuana movement sweeping across Colorado and the country, Councilman Chris Hazlett, the owner of Ralf’s Breakroom, described legal retail cannabis shops as a potential revenue jackpot. He believes the city should re-examine its previous opposition towards these types of businesses.
“We can discuss it,” said Hazlett, who turned a few heads with the possible idea of opening the door slightly for retail marijuana outlets.
The concept got mixed reviews by civic leaders and city officials. Marketing and Special Events Director Steve Kitzman informed the council that limited marijuana retail operations have greatly benefitted the city of Manitou Springs. He said their local chamber of commerce now embraces this industry. That’s a big change in attitude from when talk about legal pot shops started circulating in Manitou .
From a financial standpoint, the city of Manitou Springs has so much extra money that the government often doesn’t know how to allocate this marijuana tax surplus, noted Kitzman.
“It is how you manage it,” stated Kitzman, who appeared to support having more discussions on this issue.
Eric Rose, the general manager of Century casino, also believes the city should pursue this possible marijuana-related business avenue. “It is great tourism opportunity,” said Rose. The casino general manager cited Central City as a good example, and a town that now has as many marijuana shops as gaming establishments. “I think it is worth putting it out there,” he added.
“I am seeing dollar signs,” said business owner Bill Burcaw. “It’s a great thing for (a city’s) revenue,” said Mayor Bruce Brown.
But not all council members are sold on the idea. Councilman Milford Ashworth says the city should only explore retail marijuana as a last resort. “We have put a lot of effort into getting families up here,” said the councilman. Ashworth maintains that retail pot shops would counter-act the push for family activities and tourism.
“It’s a two-edged sword,” said Cripple Creek Finance Director Paul Harris. From a revenue standpoint, Harris suggested that retail marijuana could provide a definite jackpot. However, he cited a number of health problems and mentioned a recent televised segment on Sixty Minutes that outlined grave negative impacts for the Pueblo and southern Colorado area
Other council members had similar mixed views. Brown stated that legal marijuana has become a hot topic at forums hosted by the Colorado Municipal League, with diverse opinions on the pros and cons of this industry.
In any case, city leaders want to review their prospects in playing the town’s marijuana card a little more.
At the very least, they want to further re-evaluate the current marijuana bans imposed by the council in the past. Actually, Cripple Creek was one of the first communities in Teller County to adopt anti-marijuana regulations.

The Push for More Money
Last week’s marijuana discussion was prompted by the city’s somewhat dire financial situation and a debate over possible options.
The city is struggling financially due to a record low amount of betting devices and games by local casinos, as part of industry-wide consolidation trends. The casino industry is improving and plans are in the works for more lodging rooms
But that doesn’t help the city in the short-term. City operations are funded primarily by betting device fees and gaming revenue. The city has experienced a nearly 30 percent decline in local betting devices in the last eight years.
Unless it generates more revenue, the city will dip further into its reserve monies, or be forced to cut services. With the defeat of a proposed 6 percent lodging tax on Nov. 8, this problem has gotten worse.
At last week’s meeting, Harris proposed a slight reduction in the current betting device fee breaks the city currently offers on the initial 50 devices, per gaming license. He wanted to change this break to only allow this for every operator. As a result, device fee breaks would only occur for six places, rather than 12.
With this plan, the city would generate an extra $180,000 a year.
However, this idea was firmly opposed by virtually every council member. “I don’t like it,” blasted Hazlett, who maintained that casino operators are getting hit “right and left” from a variety of sources. “We need to get those (revenue) numbers back up,” said Councilman Tom Litherland, who cited higher fees as the last thing the industry needed right now.
Rose and several other local industry leaders echoed similar views. Marc Murphy, general manager of Bronco Billy’s casino, stated that several local casinos are either in the process, or are starting major plans for new lodging establishments. He said the industry sought the citys support for these development pursuits, and hinted that higher fees aren’t the answer.
The casino operators also urged the city to continue to support their joint advertising television campaign.
The city will adopt its 2017 budget on Dec. 7.