Jerry Kopel

Natalie Meyer is smiling

By Jerry Kopel

August 9, 2007

What goes around, comes around.

Somewhere in Colorado, Natalie Meyer is smiling. The former secretary of state who subsequently served nearly seven years as one of the five member casino Limited Gaming Control Commission until she was fired by then-Gov. Bill Owens, has every right to smile.

From late in 2005 through January of 2006, Meyer battled to preserve the constitutional authority of the Gaming Commission to appropriate funds for the commission budget, which is set UNDER LAW by the commission and not by the legislature's joint budget committee or by the Dept. of Revenue.

The commission was placed in the Dept. of Revenue by statute for two reasons: (1) the lottery law was there and (2) Revenue would collect the casino taxes on behalf of the commission.

Meyer fought for personnel needed (regulators and investigators) against Revenue Dept. Director Michael Cooke who opposed hiring the additional five employees which Meyer said were needed to provide the necessary regulatory oversight.

Meyer told Denver Post columnist Fred Brown that Cooke was "high-handed, vindictive", that she "eviscerated the commission, making major personnel moves without telling commissioners, denying them direct communication with key staff."

Investigations were being carried out, and fines were being levied against eleven casinos in the summer and fall of 2006. But in a Denver Post story on defective slot machines, the reporter wrote:

"A recent review by the Post found that Colorado had the FEWEST (emphasis added) officials assigned to oversee slot machines per device among states that have commercial casinos."

That review was reaffirmed, said Meyer, by a researcher who compared the normal number of casino investigators in other states and the few in Colorado. He claimed that for every slot machine one investigator tested in other states, the Colorado workload would be 16 slot machines. And of course that didn't happen.

The Gaming Commission began operation in 1991-92 with 72 full-time staff members and one half-time employee. In 2006, the commission had 72 full-time employees. The number had fluctuated as low as 66 employees, but never more than 72.

Fifteen years with the same staff size? While casino revenues have jumped tremendously! No wonder Commission Chairman Meyer and vice-chairman Robert Millman were outraged at Cooke.

In a Denver Post article Feb. 17, 2006, Meyer and Millman "alleged...Cooke overstepped her boundaries by meddling with the gaming budget..."

That was followed, said Meyer, by Cooke taking control of five Gaming Commission employees, mostly auditors, to report to a Revenue chief for duty even through the five were still being paid out of the Gaming Commission budget and were housed there.

According to Meyer, the largest casinos were totally in support of having sufficient oversight, recognizing that inducing customers to come in depended on the credibility of their operations.

That concern was supported by a Denver Post quote from Lois Rice, spokesman for the Colorado Gaming Association. "...when it does appear that the regulation is slacking off, that's troublesome for us."

Meyer and Millman took their concerns to Owens. Refusing to be quiet on the controversy, both Meyer and Millman were terminated in January under CRS 12-47.1-301 (1) (d) "Any member of the commission may be removed by the governor at any time." A third commissioner, Barbara Jenkins, resigned in protest

Owens, according to his press secretary, called Meyer "disruptive" and that "he (Owens) had lost confidence in her leadership". However, in a letter to Mrs. Meyer, Owens made no such comment. It was a "letter of praise" and included a certificate of termination, which, she told me, she had no plans to frame and place on a wall

Cooke, the former Dept. of Revenue director and close associate of Owens is now gone, replaced by Gov. Bill Ritter's appointee Roxy Huber, a lady whose actions indicate she understands the English language in Article 18, Section 9, subsection (5):

"From the money in the limited gaming fund (the taxes paid by the casinos) the state treasurer is hereby authorized to pay all ongoing expenses of the commission and of any other state agency, related to administration of this section 9.

"Such payment shall be made upon proper presentation of a voucher prepared by the COMMISSION (emphasis added) in accordance with statutes governing payments of liability incurred on behalf of the state. Such payment shall not be conditioned on any appropriation by the general assembly."

The language was repeated in statutory form in CRS 12-47.1-701 (1) (a) and (b) .

Now, 18 months after the firing, the Gaming Commission has hired an additional four full-time employees (four of the five sought by Meyer). They are two compliance investigators on slot machines and two background investigators.


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