Preservationists, community colleges jostle for gaming revenue

Community colleges seemed to hit the jackpot in an ailing economy when voters passed Amendment 50 in November.

The amendment allowed casinos in Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to introduce games such as roulette, increase betting limits from $5 to as much as $100, and expand hours, if approved by local voters. Amendment 50 earmarked 78 percent of new gaming revenue for Colorado’s community colleges.

The amendment, however, spurred wrangling between community colleges and preservation groups around the state, which had been receiving a portion of gaming revenue. Mesa State College President Tim Foster sought a formal opinion from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to ensure Western Colorado Community College would receive some of the money.

Two questions needed to be answered: What defines new and old money? Who is in and who is out?

“The amendment has very specific language dictating how new revenue from new gaming opportunities will be allocated,” said Mike Feeley, a member of the Mesa State Board of Trustees. “What it doesn’t determine is how new revenue will be determined.”

Feeley, a Denver-based attorney representing community colleges, said the schools and preservationists have gone through “some give and take” leading up to legislation that could be introduced this week that would enable the amendment to take effect.

Voters in all three gambling towns have paved the way for the new games, hours and betting limits.

Colorado has allowed limited gaming since the early 1990s, and a state funding formula sent 28 percent of gaming revenue to historic preservation and restoration projects, according to an Amendment 50 fiscal-impact statement.

The amendment is projected to send $29 million to community colleges its first year alone, the statement said.

Dan Love, president of Colorado Preservation Inc., said current recipients should receive “their share of the taxes as if the amendment hadn’t passed” along with an annual 6 percent increase that was included in the amendment.

Love said he realizes accounting old and new revenue can’t be exact, but that casinos should be able to provide a good estimate.

It’s not as easy as it seems, Feeley said. For example,  confusion could arise from trying to sort out amounts of bets and the games in which they were placed, and the preservation groups could use that confusion to get money they aren’t entitled to,  he said.

“My impression was that (community colleges) were the primary reason this was passed,” Feeley said.

Either way, Foster sought the attorney general’s opinion as insurance against opponents who argued Western Colorado Community College should not get any of the money.

Most community colleges are under the umbrella of the community college system, but Western Colorado Community College is administered by Mesa State.

Suthers, however, concluded Mesa State did not abandon its original mission as a two-year institution when it became a four-year institution, and that WCCC would be entitled to new gaming revenue because it fit the definition of an eligible community college as outlined in Amendment 50.


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