Rob Douglas: Casino raises questions


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— The image of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding Yampa Valley is that of a family friendly, Western ranching community that is home to one of the world’s premier ski resorts, trophy elk hunting, world-class fly-fishing and a growing road and mountain biking scene.

Will gambling be added to that image?

It will if a small group of local entrepreneurs succeed in opening a casino.

On March 22, the Steamboat Today reported that “Steamboat Springs Olympian Johnny Spillane and four local business partners are exploring the viability of building a casino, hotel and entertainment venue on land near Yampa Valley Regional Airport.” Spillane’s development partners include Steamboat resident Steve Hofman, a former U.S. assistant secretary of labor under former President George H. W. Bush; Hayden resident Dave Marin; Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten; and his business partner Bob Zibel. Zibel owns a 187-acre parcel along Routt County Road 51A near the airport that would serve as the site for the casino and hotel. The development group plans to partner with an American Indian tribe.

The development group already has conducted meetings with business leaders and council members in Hayden, Craig and Steamboat to obtain feedback as part of a process requiring federal approval to develop the casino under U.S. Indian gaming laws. The casino also will require approval from the governor of Colorado and, according to Hofman, the developers are “not going to ask our governor to support a project that our community doesn’t support.”

Given that it’s been almost three months since the first public report about this gambling venture, and given that the developers have been holding private meetings with elected officials and community leaders since last year, it’s time for our local elected representatives and the developers to hold public meetings so they can receive feedback from local residents who will be impacted — positively or negatively — by the introduction of an Indian casino in the Yampa Valley.

After all, in the March 22 article, Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky said, “They’ve got a lot of work to do in regards to getting the residents of the Yampa Valley educated in regards to the impact both good and bad a project like this would have.”

Kounovsky is only half-right. The responsibility for educating the public and seeking feedback about the plans for an Indian casino doesn’t just lie with the developers; it lies with every elected body that represents citizens in Northwest Colorado. It is the duty of our local officials to represent to the governor and federal authorities our various communities’ views about the possible development of an Indian casino here in the valley. Responsible representation requires probing questions at public hearings designed to fully explore the economic and societal realities of what an Indian casino would mean for all citizens and businesses.

Serious public policy issues raised by this proposed Indian casino include:

Why are the developers partnering with an American Indian tribe? Under federal Indian gaming laws, what authority do local elected officials and governmental bodies have over the approval and operation of an Indian casino? Is non-Indian reservation land by Yampa Valley Regional Airport justifiable for use as an Indian casino? What impact will a casino, hotel and entertainment complex at the airport have on local businesses throughout the valley? Does an Indian casino pay the same taxes as all other businesses? What impact will casino gambling have on the image of the Yampa Valley?

These are only a few of the dozens of public policy questions that surround any decision to build a casino — much less a casino that will be governed by federal Indian gaming laws.

Given the serious issues raised, it’s time for a development process that has been under way behind closed doors to be vetted publicly. That way, everyone can begin to examine the pros and cons of an Indian casino in the Yampa Valley. If our elected representatives are too timid to initiate a public process they should have started the moment they got wind of this development — as opposed to waiting for the developers to set the timeline — then other avenues of representation to the governor and federal officials should be explored by interested citizens and organizations.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C., private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

I think we have not heard more about the proposed casino because it is not going to happen. They have difficult hurdles to clear prior to having a proposal for anyone to review or approve.

25 years ago it was popular to put casinos in less populated places as a form of economic development.

The current model is to put them near population centers and for the state to take a higher portion of the profits. That is what Pennsylvania did and the state is getting big revenues and taking business away from casinos further away.

Thus, it would be far more likely that the next casino in Colorado is close to Denver than in Hayden.

I believe that the Governor gets involved because the State would be asked to consider the parcel in Hayden as a reservation. The casinos in Central City and Blackhawk are already struggling and they would be expected to bitterly oppose any additional gambling. The only way the State is going to fight that battle is for the big revenues of a Denver Metro casino.


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

Rob, you finally wrote a column that I agree with you on. Knew it had to happen eventually. Put it to a county wide vote. If a subdivision was important enough for a Steamboat vote, this should be important enough for a county wide vote.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

Jerry, It is not the relative importance of a decision that determines who votes on repealing the decision, but which government entities made decisions to approve it.

If it is county decision that is being reconsidered then it is a countywide vote.

If it is a Town of Hayden decision then it would be a Hayden town vote.

But worrying about a public vote is so far off in the process. For a start they have to find an Indian tribe wishing to go through the process to try to open a casino in Hayden as compared to the Front Range.

And most of Rob's questions are not public policy decisions, but legal issues regarding tribes and gambling laws. A lawyer knowledgeable in those fields could answer those question.

I think Rob's statement: "it’s time for a development process that has been under way behind closed doors to be vetted publicly" is misleading. There is no proposal. There have been no decisions made. All that the developers can do is ask government about what would be the process if this or that was proposed. Same thing that any one can do. Anyone could meet with local government officials and discover what their process would be for any proposed casino.


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

scott wedel How about a casino in Oak Creek on your car wash property?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

Sure. Just get it approved.

I once had a likely tenant until Town said it would take 14 weeks for the approval process to just close in one bay for a craftman's shop.


max huppert 4 years, 10 months ago

Scott 14 weeks,, its been years since you have done anything with that property.. Your so silly,, You still thinking about opening a restaurant in town? I did warn you.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

Your restaurant comment is just public proof that you are knowingly spreading false rumors and trying to make trouble with your comments. Anyone that knows me then also knows that I think Oak Creek has too many restaurants with too few customers.


John St Pierre 4 years, 10 months ago

Just a few facts: Indan Casino's pay no Taxes... they are independent nations..... and I wonder if they take over the land at Hayden they won;t have to pay property taxes either......

I would highly recommend that people look at places like Foxwoods in Conn., Tunica, Miss. and see the "impact".... there are no periphal business's except for gas stations.... Look at Blackhawk... what other business's are there?? there is not even gift Shops..... it's just casino's...... which are just large vacume cleaners that suck all the extra $ out of community... as for Jobs.... Management are out of towners, who rent... the rest are "service" jobs which rarely pay more that $8-11 an hour......

I'm just confused of why Hayden.... the area population of Routt/ Moffat even S.Wyoming would not match what one in the Eagle Vally would generate......

If remotely one did come... how could the state justify it???? It would open the flood gates across the State.


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

The casinos at Towaoc and Ignacio are at least on reservation lands. What loophole allowed Central City/Blackhawk and Creede/Cripple Creek to circumvent the Indian-lands requirement is beyond me. I'll let the smart guys explain that for you. Maybe if the Northern Utes were to attack and claim land near Hayden and/or the airport it would be easier to fly that kite. Maybe we can just cede it back to them.

It is already legal to play poker for money in any bar in Colorado -- we have done it in a few bars in Steamboat, given management cooperation. The only requirements are that the house is not involved, and everyone playing "knows each other" however brief their acquaintance.

Hold 'Em, anyone?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

Colorado voters in 1990 approved an amendment to allow gambling in the historical districts of Blackhawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek.

Playing poker for money is actually not legal in Colorado outside of those approved cities. Nor are various football pools legal and so on. But the police are smart enough to worry about other issues than some friendly wagering when the organizer is not profiting from the gambling.

There was a subsequent amendment in 1992 by a much larger number of places including Oak Creek trying to also to jump onto the gambling wave, but it lost badly.

For so many reasons this proposed casino is so far from happening. It is so far from happening that they didn't even claim to have found an Indian tribe willing to make a claim for that land to open a casino. It makes no sense to go public with the "proposal" without the Indian tribe since then a tribe in a position to open a Colorado casino could go to an established gambling company to advance the proposal.

In fact, it is so far from happening that I think it is likely that there is no intent by any of those in the original article to open a casino in Hayden. That it could be an elaborate joke. It could be a scam by someone looking for investors. It could be a demonstration for an academic paper of how local fame can allow someone to make any sort of incredulous claim and have it printed in the local paper without any critical review.

The one thing it is not is a viable proposal to open a casino in Hayden.


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

Scott Wedel For the first time, I think, I hope you are right.


Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.