Wham! Hickenlooper Sacks Gaming Commission Over Casino Tax Cut

UPDATE: Reports FOX 31’s Eli Stokols, who do you suppose might take issue with this decision on behalf of the casino industry? Why, GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty, naturally!

Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, among others in his caucus, were dismayed by the governor’s decision.

“Gov. Hickenlooper certainly didn’t consult us before making this sweeping and arbitrary use of power,” McNulty said to FOX 31 Denver.

“Whomever is on the commission, they need to realize that families, small businesses and entire communities rely on the jobs and revenue that the gaming industry creates. If the governor’s new appointees do an about-face on these employers, families and communities will suffer.”

So, who “suffers” if the casinos pay the same taxes they paid before this arbitrary decision to cut them? We know who won’t be “suffering” more, and that’s our community colleges–most voters care more a bit more about the health of colleges than casinos.

If this does turn into a political battle between Hickenlooper and the GOP, the GOP will lose. And Hickenlooper knows it. As for McNulty’s whiny “he didn’t consult us” statement–why would Hickenlooper seek McNulty’s opinion here? Coloradans elected Hickenlooper as their governor–not Tom Tancredo, and certainly not Frank McNulty–and these are the types of decisions a governor makes. Hickenlooper is under no obligation, not even as a courtesy, to put in a call to anybody at the state legislature before making a decision like this.


We spoke a few weeks ago about a vote by the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission to cut taxes paid by the casino industry–a decision made on the pretense of “tough economic times,” but which stoked outrage from many over the preferential treatment for the industry only two years after Colorado voters approved much higher bet limits to increase revenue. Beneficiaries of these gaming funds like the Colorado Community College System cried betrayal: stakeholders didn’t join with casinos to pass Amendment 50 in 2008 only to have the industry turn around and ask for a tax cut. The appearances here were straight-up awful.

As the Denver Business Journal reports today, this vote to cut casino taxes was a bridge too far for a commission that serves at the pleasure of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who creditably understood the terrible political folly taking place where commission members did not.

Gov. John Hickenlooper replaced all five members of the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission with new appointees on Wednesday.

The commission decides on regulations for casinos in Colorado, which are allowed to operate in three mountain towns.

The shakeup comes about seven weeks after its previous members decided to lower taxes paid by casinos. Hickenlooper disagreed with that decision.

In his statement today, Gov. Hickenlooper makes it unusually clear that this ill-advised vote to cut casino taxes in the middle of a fiscal crisis is the reason why the commission was ousted:

Each of the appointees will be new to the Commission. One current member reached the end of a second four-year term and was not eligible for reappointment; one member reached the end of a four-year term and did not reapply for a second term; and three members were asked by the governor to step down…

“We don’t believe the Colorado gaming industry should be judged reasonably unprofitable or unhealthy at a time when some casinos are making major multi-million dollar investments in one of the worst economic periods in our nation’s history,” Hickenlooper said. “Gaming should be subject to the same risks and rewards of operating and expanding as other industries that don’t have the same ability to change their tax rate based on market conditions. Colorado casinos pay among the lowest tax rates in America, and to lower them even further in these times of unmet needs in local communities makes it appear they are diverting their fair and rightful obligation onto their neighbors in the rest of the state.”

Any way you look at this: fairness, corporate honesty, or just plain realism in approaching our state’s complicated fiscal problems, the decision by the LGCC to cut casino taxes in the middle of a budget shortfall was a horrible move for everyone involved. We didn’t believe anything could be done about this bad decision except complain and count the losses to education and other priorities; but then John Hickenlooper reminded everyone who is governor of this state.

We know a lot of people who will be very happy to see that.

32 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Ellie says:

    Best call I’ve seen a highly elected office holder make it a hell of a long time.

  2. Honesty, I’m trying to figure out what his thinking is. The optics of that statement are worse than the eleventh hour payday lending showdown at the end of session.

    • JeffcoBlue says:

      The “midnight payday payback” is EXACTLY what I thought of when I read this. I have to assume that McNulty just doesn’t care what the whoring looks like anymore.

      The party of casinos and payday loans. Vote GOP for a bright future!

  3. DenLawyer says:

    Like the decision or not, in my opinion it shows Hick has some stones.  And, to my knowledge there is no guarantee the new commissioners will reverse the casino tax cut.

    • JeffcoBlue says:

      Because we got a governor with stones.

    • Diogenesdemar says:

      The priors dismissal and the current appointments all came with a strong and clear message.  It’s an extremely safe bet.

      • In their infinite wisdom, the voters of Colorado approved subsection (7)(e) of Section 9 of Article XVIII of the Colorado Constitution when they voted for Amendment 50:


        Ha ha, oops!

        So maybe the Gov has instructed his new people to take that action, but they can’t get it done on their own. This is what you get when you tie funding for a specific public priority to a source of general government revenue. There is no nexus between the gaming industry and community colleges (or historical preservation or most of the other programs funded through earmarked limited gaming revenue).

        Consider this example eleventy billion why fiscal policy shouldn’t be in the state constitution and why Western-style direct democracy falls on its face.

        • Diogenesdemar says:

          revoke those recent tax reductions?  As long as they don’t increase the tax levels beyond the levels previously in effect (“the levels imposed as of July 1, 2008”), should be no problem, right?

          If I were Pols, I’d say the odds are still in Lamborn territory.

          (By the way, hell of a catch little Bluth.  Your point about fiscal policy and the state constitution is spot on.)

          • Good first impression… real good.

            /hits self

            I had thought from day one that any rate increase subsequent to A50 needed a statewide vote. Disclosure: I worked on this amendment (a minor role admittedly) and even I can’t accurately describe what it does… because I’m apparently incompetent. So the chance that the A50 voters understood what they were voting on = not that great.

            In fact I’d argue that a consistent application of the “single subject” philosophy should preclude any ballot question that earmarks funding without a logical nexus.

            Let the record state that I owe Diogenesdemar an unspecified amount of money and/or sexual favors.  

            • Diogenesdemar says:

              someday I’ll have to tell you a little about my two decades plus firsthand history of legislation and rule making experiences surprises debacles.  If Colorado history proves anything, it proves that nobody ever knows what anything says, especially those who think they should know.

              Hang on to your cash and your goodies, someday I’ll call on you to defend me against the idiocies of Libertad, BJ, et al.  Oh, yeah, and welcome to our little corner of the asylum.

        • BlueCat says:

          You’ll get no argument from me on that one.

  4. ArapaGOP says:

    What really happened?


    A review of campaign donations reveals that three of Hickenlooper’s new appointments were campaign donors, including two who maxed out. It looks like Hick is stacking the deck (pun intended) with his own donors. This isn’t the Howdy Doody we’ve come to love for his quirkiness, it’s Chicago-style politics.

    Charles Murphy: Donated $1,000 to Hickenlooper for Colorado

    Robert Webb: Donated $1,050 to Hickenlooper for Colorado

    Jannine Mohr: Donated $25 to Hickenlooper for Colorado

    Paging Common Cause — now is the time to rev up the pay to play outrage machine.

    And Doug Darr, the guy so corrupt that even your precious liberal Ethics Watch called on him to resign? Enjoy the thrill of the kill, tomorrow the questions will begin!

  5. NeonNurse says:

    …I seem to hear Dominic West asking, “What the fuck did I DO?” in an aggrieved tone.

  6. Gilpin Guy says:

    This just gives everyone a fresh start.

    We certainly don’t want the gaming commission to end up like the MMS where the regulators were attending cocaine and prostitution parties paid by the Oil & Gas corporations which came from their tax breaks.

    Commissions that are knowledgeable of the industry are important for sensible regulations but we don’t want it to be an incestuous relationship.

  7. scodtt says:

    This reminds me of when Bennett in one of his first acts as superintendent closed a whole high school. It sent a message to everyone so there was no doubt about who was in charge.

    Now everyone knows that if they work for state government, even as a volunteer on a board, they need to not be stupid or the governor will just eliminate their whole division, or whatever. That’s as it should be.

    And on the content, Hick was exactly right. The tax cut for Big Gambling was pathetic. Anyone who paid attention to the Amendment 50 debate from 2008 realized what a crock that move was. Supporters and opponents of 50 agreed it was a complete betrayal.

    Thanks, Hick. I’m glad the office of governor hasn’t made you a pansy.

  8. As to GG’s comment about regulators who know the industry: I agree, though I’d rather have 5 people completely unfamiliar with the industry than 5 people who are so in bed with it that they hand out gift tax reductions during a government fiscal crisis.

  9. shrubHugger says:

    It has come to our attention that you are currently in the throes of a giant hissy fit.

    Gov. Hickenlooper certainly didn’t consult us before making this sweeping and arbitrary use of power  

    Which, makes zero sense because you  aren’t entitled to such a consultation. to put it plainyl, Hick don’t give a shit what you think.  Do you run all of your board and commision appointments through the Governor’s office?  But to make this simple for you, here is the definition of the requirements for making those appointments, from Legislative Council:

    The Commission consists of 5 members, all of whom must be citizens of the United States and current residents of Colorado who have been residents of the state for the last five years.  

    No member shall have been convicted of a felony or a gambling-related offense.  No more than three of the five members shall be from the same political party, and no more than one member shall be from any one congressional district.  In addition to the above qualifications:

    1 member shall have at least five years’ law enforcement experience as a peace officer qualified pursuant to section 24-31-306;

    1 member shall be an attorney admitted to the practice of law in Colorado for not less than five years and who has experience in regulatory law;

    1 member shall be a certified public accountant or public accountant who has been practicing in Colorado for at least five years and who has comprehensive knowledge of the principles and practices of corporate finance;

    1 member shall have been engaged in business in a management-level capacity for at least five years;

    1 member shall be a registered elector of the state who is not employed in any of the professions previously mentioned.

    As you can clearly see, there is nothing that states that any Senate or House Leadership have to be consulted when making these appointments. I do see that they are to be confirmed by the senate:

    (g) Prior to confirmation by the senate, each member shall file with the secretary of state a financial

    disclosure statement in the form required and prescribed by the executive director. Such statement shall

    be renewed as of each January 1 during the member’s term of office.

    Also there’s this cute little tidbit:

    (d) Any member of the commission may be removed by the governor at any time.

    So STFU, you chinless whiner.


    Those of us with two brain cells to rub together.

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