Cripple Creek Prepares For Legislative War Over Sports Betting Expansion

Council Opposes State’s Pursuit to Snag $34 Million in Extra Tax Money

Rick Langenberg

“We won’t get fooled again.”

This signature theme line, dubbed by Peter Townshend of the Who band, and later adapted into one of the English rockers’ classic songs, became a symbolic call of arms for rock ‘n’ roll fans for several generations.

Now oddly enough, this line may just emerge as the battle cry for city elected leaders in Cripple Creek as they hit the political trenches to get their fair share of money generated from the burgeoning, multi-billion sports betting industry. Local officials contend that Cripple Creek and the gaming communities got clearly stiffed during the original passage of the sports betting ballot measure in 2019, with the original law calling for this professional sports wagering activity to occur in the three gambling towns, or by apps associated with the casinos. Instead, this turned into a mega fiscal boom for the state and its water planning efforts, but an empty bucket for Cripple Creek and Teller County, and the gaming mountain towns as a whole.

Leaders say they won’t get fooled again as state lawmakers try to de-TABOR sports betting by asking voters to allow tens of millions of extra, unanticipated tax revenue to go back into the state coffers, with none of these monies going to the gaming communities, which were designed as the original anchor source of this activity.

“We think we should get some of the sports betting revenue,” said City Administrator Frank Salvato. But more than anything, he maintains that officials want to receive  some answers to this complex issue that could be decided by the voters this November. “This (sports betting) would not have occurred without our help. There are a lot of needs out there. Not just with us, but with Teller County. How is the money being spent?”

Other local officials believe the state is on a sneaky path to snag more sports betting funds. Moreover, they contend this time they won’t be fooled by wishful promises made by lawmakers.

As a result of these concerns, Cripple Creek has fired the first legislative bullet in what could turn into a testy showdown.

Creek Council Passes anti-Sports Betting Expansion Resolution

Last week, in a special meeting, the city council unanimously passed a strongly-worded resolution that took aim at the state and made it clear that Cripple Creek staunchly opposes House Bill 24-1436. This [proposed legislation sets the stage for a ballot issue this November, permitting the state to collect potentially $30 million-plus in extra revenue. “HB24-1436 further erodes the citizens trust by asking that the approximately thirty-four million dollars ($34,000,000) of unexpected sports betting tax revenues not be allocated to the City of Cripple Creek or the other mountain communities, or the junior colleges but in fact all of it go back to the state,” stated the council in its resolution.

In fact, the council didn’t mince words and accused the state of falsely promoting the original sports betting measure that generated impacts for the gaming town; but in the end, they received nothing. “The city of Cripple Creek has not benefitted in any material way from sports betting due to the fact that the local casinos sold their rights to major sports betting operators operating outside the city while at the same time having reduced the number of gaming devices as a result of the COVID pandemic.”

The anti-sports betting expansion move by the city followed a lengthy discussion at an earlier meeting during which Cripple Creek’s head lobbyist, Solomon “Sol” Malick, informed local leaders of this pending issue. More specifically, he expressed much disappointment over the fact that the gaming communities were not informed of the state’s intent, nor was the state’s gaming association.  “That is very concerning,” said Malick. “We weren’t approached.”

According to Malick, this legislation, which requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to become an official ballot proposition, is mainly a TABOR (Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) issue. With TABOR, if a previously approved measure exceeds the revenue estimates declared, then this extra money must go back to the taxpayers, unless voters say otherwise.

City leaders, though, have expressed outrage over the sports betting situation, and see this effort as more of the same “rip the gaming communities off” tactic.

The council maintained in a recent meeting that it needed to take a strong stand. “How many millions of dollars need to go into the state’s water fund?” questioned one leader. “How many water projects are there.”

Malick agreed and noted that Cripple Creek could team up with Black Hawk, a town that has similar concerns regarding the sports betting inequity and lack of transparency exhibited by state officials.

Under one scenario, leaders are hopeful that the proposed legislation could get altered and Cripple Creek may receive part of the extra, unanticipated revenue.

Or, if the city strikes out with the authors of the new sports betting, ballot initiative, then possibly Cripple Creek and the other gaming towns could propose their own alternative measure. Also, another possibility is that the city do things the old-fashion way and hit the signature petition route this summer and develop an alternative ballot plan from the one currently under consideration by state lawmakers.

Following last week’s special council meeting, Salvato stated that the next strategic step involves putting the ball back into Malick’s court.

The administrator contends that the city’s lobbyist can decide the next practical move to protect Cripple Creek’s interests regarding future sports betting activity.