Letters to the Editor

Grant suspension jeopardizes welfare of gaming communities

To: The Honorable Moe Keller
Chairman, Joint Budget Committee
Colorado General Assembly

Dear Madame Chairman:

The purpose of this letter is to voice our opposition to the governor’s recent proposed suspension and redirection of funds from the Local Government Limited Gaming Impact Program, in addition to other funds such as the Waste Tire Program to the state’s general fund. On Aug. 25, 2009, Gov. Bill Ritter announced a budget-balancing plan to close a $3 million to $18 million revenue shortfall in the current state budget. As part of that plan, the governor announced a proposed suspension of $5.5 million in Gaming Impact Grants designated by the people of this state to local governments and social service agencies to counter the negative impact of gaming on communities. The governor has proposed to move these funds into the general fund, rather than provide them to local communities.

The Local Government Limited Gaming Impact Program (LGLGI) was created by statute in 1997 to provide financial assistance to local communities battling documented gaming impacts from limited stakes gambling which are significant in draining community resources. Statutory authority for the LGLGI program is found in C.R.S. 12-47.1-1601 and 1602, which sets forth which local governments are eligible for funding, creates the Local Government Limited Gaming Impact Advisory Committee and authorizes the executive director of DOLA to make funding awards. The geographic eligibility for the LGLGI Program includes the counties of Gilpin and Teller as well as the eight counties contiguous to these two counties: Boulder, Clear Creek, Douglas, El Paso, Fremont, Grand, Jefferson and Park. In addition, counties containing tribal lands where limited stakes gaming occurs are also included within the eligibility area, including Archuleta, La Plata and Montezuma counties.

Studies reflect clear correlations between casino gaming and increased child abuse and neglect. It is not uncommon for children to be found abandoned on casino premises or neglected in cars while parents are inside gaming. Likewise, local law enforcement agencies experience increased calls for service to dangerous crimes such as DUI and serious assaults as gaming participants travel to and from the casinos. First responders such as fire and emergency personnel must respond, and prosecutors are needed to take the cases to court.

The impact of the suspension of the grants in the Pikes Peak Region alone will be staggering. El Paso and Teller County recipients such as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the District Attorney, TESSA, Teller County Sheriffs Office, and many other agencies and local governments anticipate over $3 million (from the grants) in the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year. Without these funds, the local communities of El Paso and Teller counties will experience the following:

• The loss of nine full-time District Attorney staff members assigned to prosecute cases involving child abuse, DUI, assault and embezzlement;

• The lack of advocacy services for dozens of children whose caretakers have abused or neglected them while gaming;

• Cancellation of counseling and safety planning for more than 60 victims of domestic violence abused by offenders involved in gaming;

• Loss of funding for four Teller County Sheriff’s Office deputies who patrol the highways and maintain public safety;

• A dramatic decrease in the availability of health care to uninsured families affected by gaming;

• A severe reduction in repairs to local roads and bridges, which bear the brunt of casino patrons’ travel.

In 1997, when the law providing for these grants was enacted, the people of the state of Colorado, through their elected representatives, recognized and respected the absolute need to mitigate the negative effects of gaming and specifically provided for these funds to be used therefore. In 2008, voters reaffirmed their support for limited stakes gaming, but also retained the statutory authorization of funds to mitigate the impact. To now suspend these funds both undermines the will of the people and their expectation that their local agencies would have the resources necessary to battle gaming impacts.

Moreover, the suspension of proposed funds by the governor is uniquely devastating in that it is not a partial funding cut but a simple request to “tighten the belt.” Rather, the governor’s proposal removes the funding in its entirety, effectuating a 100 percent budget cut for local communities for gaming impact. In these difficult economic times, social service agencies, law enforcement and other government departments are especially ill-equipped to absorb such drastic reductions in budget and funding. For example, if the governor’s proposal is accepted, Teller County residents would be left with only one ambulance (to cover) 400 miles of highway. This could mean that ambulance services for residents would be not minutes, but hours, away.

Gaming Impact funds are vital to the effort of local law enforcement, health care organizations and social service agencies to ensure that the innocent victims of gaming and the local citizens receive the services and care they were promised.

The Board of County Commissioners, El Paso County, requests that you reject Gov. Ritter’s proposal to suspend Gaming Impact Grants and to help ensure that the fight continues against the negative impacts of gaming to local communities.

Sincerely,

El Paso County Commissioners:

Jim Bensberg (chair)
Sallie Clark (vice chair)
Amy Lathen
Dennis Hisey
Wayne W. Williams