Cripple Creek Playing High-Stakes Poker With Lawmakers

Illegal, Competing Gaming Operations in Colorado Spring Questioned

Rick Langenberg

The city of Cripple Creek is playing with a new deck of cards in its regular dealings with state lawmakers, a game that has big consequences for the gaming community.

That point captured the theme of a presentation by Solomon “Sol”  Malick, president of the Peak Government Affairs, who has served as the head lobbyist for the city of Cripple Creek for a number of years, at last week’s regular meeting.  Similar to views echoed by the Teller County commissioners, Malick outlined the progressive blue waters  Cripple Creek must now paddle across in dealing with key state matters.

This will have a big impact on Cripple Creek, which has implemented one of the more aggressive lobbying efforts at the state capital among local cities. These efforts have often dealt with protecting the gaming and mining industries, which generally don’t fare as well with progressive Democratic leaders.   “We didn’t see this coming,” said Malick,  in describing the results of the Nov. 2022 election during which the state took a twist from a more moderate political makeup to a much more progressive beat. The House is now dominated by a 46-19 Democratic majority and the Senate features a 23-12 Dem advantage. Plus, the state has a  Democratic governor with presidential aspirations. As a result, he said many committees won’t have that many Republican members, which isn’t good news for Cripple Creek, according to Malick’s analysis.

Moreover, he said the Colorado Assembly lineup  sports 33 new legislators, many of whom have little knowledge about Cripple Creek. “That has proved to be a challenge,” said Malick. Plus, Malick said the presidential ambitions of Governor Jared Polis could come into play.

As a result, the town’s head lobbyist said they have their work cut out for themselves in representing Cripple Creek and in educating the new lawmakers.

On the upside, he did not report that many adverse bills on the horizon, impacting the town. He cited the new Childcare protection bill and the contribution required from the city, as a possible problem area. But Malick remained optimistic about a compromise.

But Malick was grilled by a few questions from the council, including a concern  they have received from the gaming industry regarding competitive gambling activity in certain establishments in Colorado Springs that sport devices that mirror those of video slots in Cripple Creek.

Councilman Tom Litherland questioned if this is a byproduct of new legislation that they weren’t aware of. Based on his understanding, Litherland stated that legal gambling could only occur in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk.

If these reports are true about pending threats from Colorado Springs, Litherland feared that little motivation would exist for many gamers to travel to Cripple Creek. He also noted that the Colorado Division of Gaming would  not derive any revenue from this activity. Litherland said they have been contacted by representatives of the local gaming industry regarding this competitive situation.

But to the contrary, Malick said a previous bill was defeated several years ago that would have opened the door for certain bars/restaurants to house devices that are similar to games of chance in Cripple Creek, under a proposed different definition of video lottery terminals. These devices would have been defined as “games of choice,” and not “games of chance,” which could have provided definite competition for Cripple Creek, noted the lobbyist.

Malick vowed to investigate this issue further with the state and local gaming associations, and even with the Attorney General’s Office. He said if illegal gambling activity was occurring, these instances needed to be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office, and these businesses could get shut down.

Mayor Milford Ashworth urged Malick to look into this situation more and stay in contact with the local gaming association.

Malick was also asked about the probability of the state income tax getting removed, a plan  proposed by Polis. The lobbyist doubted this would occur, basically due the money this generates. “That (the state income tax) pays for a lot,” said Malick. “I just don’t see that happening.”

New Mayor Pro  Tem For Cripple Creek

In other council news, Melissa “Missy” Trenary received the nod as the mayor pro tem for the 2023 year.

Trenary won a re-election bid last November for her second and final term on the council.  She works with a local casino and has been a long-term resident of the area, and has been involved in the past with the Cripple Creek District Museum and the Hospitality House  At one time, Trenary even worked as a staff writer and columnist for TMJ News.

Tom Litherland was the mayor pro tem for 2022. He declined a suggestion to continue this role.

The council now has a different look, with Bruce Brown, a former mayor for 10-plus years, serving as a Ward Four representative, while Jared Bowman, a long-time resident, serves as the Ward Five representative.

The new council already took a change in direction, when it agreed to kill a retail sales operation at the Cripple Creek Heritage Center (see related story).