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

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

Rob Douglas: Gambling with our image


Rob Douglas

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

Find more columns by Douglas here.

During a “60 Minutes” interview April 12, 2009, correspondent Charlie Rose asked casino magnate Steve Wynn how someone could win in a casino. Wynn replied candidly, “Own one, unless you’re very lucky.”

Even then, it turns out, the “lucky” winners end up gambling away their winnings.

Rose: “You have never known, in your entire life, a gambler who comes here and wins big and walks away.”

Wynn: “Never.”

Rose: “So you know nobody, hardly, that over the stretch of time is ahead.”

Wynn: “Nope.”

And yet, millions of Americans go to casinos every year and throw away their hard-earned cash.

The proverb is true. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Deriving from the odious charade of using federal Indian gaming laws as a facade to develop an Indian casino on non-reservation land, the threshold question presented by Olympian Johnny Spillane and his casino cohorts is this: Do residents of Northwest Colorado want the first image greeting visitors as they land at Yampa Valley Regional Airport to be one of a business that — at its core — is based on the vice of separating fools from their money?

More to the point in Routt County, does gambling fit with the carefully nurtured reputation and image of a family-friendly, Western ranching community that beckons visitors to one of the world’s premier ski resorts, trophy elk hunting, world-class fly-fishing and biking?

While the question seemingly begs the answer, it does present a challenge for those of us from the live-and-let-live school of thought. Why should we care if tourists — or our neighbors — want to gamble their money away? After all, it is their money. Besides, we all waste money at times, and none of us want our neighbors telling us how we should spend our money. In short, what right does any one of us have to object to gambling if it is not causing harm?

There’s the rub. When it comes to a casino, how do we determine harm?

We determine harm by examining the impact gambling will have on our community values.

Since the beginning of time, individuals and families have gathered to form communities with like-minded individuals and families who share a common set of behavioral standards, norms and values that often distinguish them from other communities within their region or country. At times, these local community values are codified formally into laws. More often, they informally are adhered-to standards of morality that project an image of that community to the outside world.

The answer to the question of whether a casino will harm the reputation and image of the Yampa Valley depends on whether gambling is compatible with the values of a majority of residents living in the valley. By their own admission, the burden of proof that casino gambling conforms to the community values of the Yampa Valley falls on the shoulders of Spillane and his casino partners. In a March 23 Steamboat Today article (“Casino is being explored close to airport”), Steve Hofman, one of Spillane’s partners, said the developers are “not going to ask our governor to support a project that our community doesn’t support.”

Fortunately, in a letter this week to the Steamboat Today (“Douglas got it wrong,” June 13), Spillane and Hofman announced they are about to produce “a document that addresses many of the questions likely on the mind of most people.” If my inbox is any indication, the timing of this document is fortuitous. The questions swirling around this potential Indian casino are growing.

Those questions include: What authority will local residents have to approve this casino, or does approval lie solely with the federal government and the governor? As an Indian facility, will the casino be exempt from local taxes? And have promises of jobs or revenue sharing been made to any individuals or entities during the more than 55 private meetings the developers have conducted during the past year?

But before we reach those questions, Spillane and Hofman should explain how slot machines will dovetail with the community values of the Yampa Valley and how a faux Indian casino will not harm the image of this valley that was conceived and nurtured by pioneers like Carl Howelsen and countless others during the past century.

With or without that explanation, citizens of the Yampa Valley should decide whether they want to gamble with the valley’s reputation by supplementing the image of Carl Howelsen with a one-armed bandit.

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

For someone claiming to be a libertarian, Rob sure has a large role for government. Government's role is to protect local's public reputation? Well geez, that justifies government doing everything. Next week Rob supports a government imposed dress code because young people dress like homeless bums and that is not the sort of image we want tourists to encounter.

I think the big question that this paper has yet to ask is what is the process for an Indian casino on what is now private property?

According to the National Indian Gaming Commission

Indian gaming must be conducted on Indian lands within a tribes’ jurisdiction. Indian lands are defined as all lands within the limits of any Indian reservation and any lands title to which is either held in trust by the United States for the benefit of any Indian tribe or individual or held by any Indian tribe or individual subject to restriction by the United States against alienation and over which an Indian tribe exercises government power.

Land into trust is a real estate transaction that converts land from private or individual (fee) title into federal title. Trust status can only be conferred by an Act of Congress, a court decision or settlement, or, most commonly, through an application through the U.S. Department of Interior.

Why doesn't a casino have to comply with local and state zoning?

Although states and local governments generally have the right to regulate persons and activities within their borders, and Indian reservations are contained within such borders, the United States Constitution gives Congress the exclusive authority over Indian affairs. Unless Congress specifically authorizes a state to apply its laws within an Indian reservation, it may not do so. However, in IGRA, Congress declared that the construction and maintenance of tribal gaming facilities must adequately protect the environment and the health and safety of tribal casino employees and patrons. The Commission ensures that these provisions of the IGRA are implemented.

So all they have to do is convince the federal government that the parcel next to the Hayden Airport should become part of an Indian reservation and then the tribe can open a casino while being exempt from any sort of local control or zoning.

So no local votes or local government decisions to be made. Only federal government deciding whether that parcel is to become Indian tribal land.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

And more, this time from the ICRA:

Sec. 2719. Gaming on lands acquired after October 17, 1988

(a) Prohibition on lands acquired in trust by Secretary. Except as provided in subsection (b), gaming regulated by this Act shall not be conducted on lands acquired by the Secretary in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe after the date of enactment of this Act [enacted Oct. 17, 1988] unless-- (1) such lands are located within or contiguous to the boundaries of the reservation of the Indian tribe on the date of enactment of this Act [enacted Oct. 17, 1988]; or (2) the Indian tribe has no reservation on the date of enactment of this Act [enacted Oct. 17, 1988] and-- (A) such lands are located in Oklahoma and-- (i) are within the boundaries of the Indian tribe's former reservation, as defined by the Secretary, or (ii) are contiguous to other land held in trust or restricted status by the United States for the Indian tribe in Oklahoma; or (B) such lands are located in a State other than Oklahoma and are within the Indian tribe's last recognized reservation within the State or States within which such Indian tribe is presently located.

(b) Exceptions. (1) Subsection (a) will not apply when-- (A) the Secretary, after consultation with the Indian tribe and appropriate State and local officials, including officials of other nearby Indian tribes, determines that a gaming establishment on newly acquired lands would be in the best interest of the Indian tribe and its members, and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community, but only if the Governor of the State in which the gaming activity is to be conducted concurs in the Secretary's determination; or (B) lands are taken into trust as part of-- (i) a settlement of a land claim, (ii) the initial reservation of an Indian tribe acknowledged by the Secretary under the Federal acknowledgment process, or (iii) the restoration of lands for an Indian tribe that is restored to Federal recognition.

Since they said they are talking to the Ute tribe then they need Hickenlooper's approval AND the support of local and state officials and that a Hayden casino is in the best interest of the tribe whose reservation is a ways from here.

Which I think is a real long shot because creating a local reservation that is then exempt from local zoning and doesn't pay local taxes is unlikely to be popular. Far easier for the state to simply change the gambling laws to add corporate casinos in prime locations where the state takes a large chunk of revenues. See how much revenue Penn St Gov Rendel was able to get for casinos near big cities.


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

I was tempted to jump back into this fray, but if you believe a private investigator specializes in homicide, my words would be wasted. We'll swallow anything, Rob.


mark hartless 4 years, 10 months ago

Gambling with image?

Check the headlines once in a while; that ship has sailed. Half the town is a bunch of potheads. Those who oppose pot drive drunk and carry & brandish guns on a ski-hill. Armed robberies, heroine, murder-for-hire...

What image?


bill schurman 4 years, 10 months ago

Mark, wait just a minute, we DO have cattle drives every so often.


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

At least no one is arguing about " The House always wins!"


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

Jerry -- That's why I always play poker, where the house just deals the cards. However, I did notice after a while, that my luck would change significantly, one way or the other, when the dealer changed. It was a noticeable and definite difference. Then it would change back with the next dealer. I saw team players, passing subtle signals, who would leave within minutes of each other. Who knows what else I missed. I made more money before the free beer kicked in. Those combined helped me get over my Vegas kick. I was a guppy in a land of sharks.


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

PS -- Those were Vegas dealers, the best of the best. My luck was also significantly better on the reservation casinos in Ignacio and Towaoc, where they don't serve alcohol.


John St Pierre 4 years, 10 months ago

Scott not only are Indian Casino lands exempt from every local and State Zoning... they also PAY NO PROPERTY TAXES..... and all their income is TAX FREE.... except for whatever deal they may cut with "local officials" to calm the waters.

At this very moment the Hayden Airport (Routt County Government) is spending a very large chunk of change to install twin 27,000 gal water storage tanks to provide fire protection for the terminal since the Hayden water system is not able to supply it when it woud be needed....where and how will a casino & hotel next door get enough water??? Watch for the deal for Hayden to upgrade its water system in exchange for a casino..... as I said.... The deals that will be cut.... at the throats of all the local business's thru out the county that will lose every dollar spent at the casino..... we may get the employment of a few menial wage jobs... but the big bucks from the casino income we will never see......

Everywhere you see a Indian Casino in small town settings.... you see shuttered main streets.... these building are designed to be vacum cleaners sucking evry lose penny out of the surronding communities......Geronimo's revenge!!!!!


John St Pierre 4 years, 10 months ago

On the other hand... I see new For Sale signs all over the place out there now... could be the old "buy now " ploy.

Or maybe this is like the Walgreens deal.... the local people get it thru then cash out and move on ....the American way.... ( capitalism)


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

John -- I disagree. The Northern Utes near Towaoc get huge annual dividends as royalties from the casino, as does every tribe with a casino on its reservation. That's why you'll see Mercedes and BMW's parked next to the cinder-block hovels our government built for them when they shoved them onto lands nobody wanted anyway.


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

I guess the bottom line is whether the presence of a nearby casino would serve to reduce the number of visitors, or increase it, and I would be inclined to believe the latter.

We should be aware that a campground will spring up very nearby, even on the property, for RV's, long-haul truckers, and new visitors of many types. In effect, this casino will become its own destination resort; truckers and families will go out of their way to stay for a few days. A satellite infrastructure will also appear, convenience stores and laundromats in support of this temporary village. Besides the employment added by the casino, more money will be generated by the support structure. I would hazard a guess that crime will increase barely if at all, making it a win-win situation for the whole region.


Richard Hagins 4 years, 10 months ago

Rob, You write that "more than 55 private meetings" have held, with whom? Last week’s article you state, "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." Since the land in question lies solely within the Town of Hayden, I would like to know when these meetings occurred and how did I miss them? There haven’t been any meetings with Council. If I was approached by the group on this issue, they would be told; when you are ready to talk to the council, set an agenda item for a Hayden Town Council meeting. Richard "Festus" Hagins, Hayden Town Councilman


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

Rhys I agree that poker is a game of skill with some luck involved. I was once part of group that played once a month for 10 or 12 years. Nickel, dime, quater with a 50 cent limit so you could play all night, never win a hand and maybe lose $25. Was lots of fun. What about all the lot lizards that are going to flock to these over the road truckers? And they will have to bring their pimps and heroin dealers with them. Sorry, but I do not buy the marginal crime increase theory. In my younger days I have been around casinos and seen the strip clubs, prostitution, drug dealing, and petty crime that surrounds them. If that is what the people of this county want, fine, but put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.


Rob Douglas 4 years, 10 months ago

Councilman Hagins,

Thank you for your inquiry.

1) The reference to 55 meetings is based upon Spillane and Hofman's letter to the editor this past week in which they stated: "We also held more than 55 meetings with a wide range of people across the valley to help us better educate ourselves about the various questions and concerns that come with a project of this nature." see:

2) The reference to meetings with "business leaders and council members in Hayden, Craig and Steamboat" is based upon Spillane and Hofman's statements to the editorial board and a reporter of the Steamboat Today and is discussed in the March 23 article. see:

3) Also, in that same March 23 article article, Hayden Mayor Haskins told the reporter that your council is aware of the project. Quoting from the article: "Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins said the Hayden Town Council has heard about the project. Haskins said the town would be mistaken to not consider any sort of development proposal for land surrounding YVRA. “I have a very open mind about this,” Haskins said. “It’s kind of interesting. It was interesting last time this happened.”"

There has been some additional reporting on this issue in the Craig Daily Press. see: and

Finally, at his request, I met with Hofman back on Dec. 7 of last year and from that discussion - and from others who've approached me - I am aware that the development group has been meeting with folks they believe will be influential in moving this project forward for almost a year now.

Councilman, if you'd like to chat by phone or in person, please contact me at so that we can arrange a time. I'd very much like to speak with you if possible.

Again, thank you for your inquiry and I look forward to speaking with you directly.



Scott Wedel 4 years, 10 months ago

Well, looks like Richard "Festus" Hagins, Hayden Town Councilman is correct that there have not really been meetings.

The sloppy "reporting" by the paper has simply repeated claims made by the developers. The articles fail to quote anyone from the governments of Hayden, Steamboat, Craig or Routt County describing their meetings with the developers. The articles fail to cite any actual meetings held at any time or place.

I could say that a conversation was a meeting and therefore I've had 50 meetings in Oak Creek on any number of topics.

It is not good journalism to continue to repeat unsubstantiated claims made by others. Nor is Rob's logic correct that multiple links to the same claims by the same people makes those claims become true.

Pretty sad how this paper won't perform the little bit of actual journalism to question the claims made the casino promoters or describe the required approval process. Two little things that would show that this proposal is so far from happening. But instead the paper keeps finding reasons to promote that there is a controversy.


rhys jones 4 years, 10 months ago

Jerry -- That's what I enjoyed about the nickel-dime-quarter games we played in bars in Steamboat. I'd leave those with my pockets bulging with change.

I was up several hundred dollars at the Sahara in Vegas once, only to blow it all when my judgment got clouded by the free beer. I ended up $200 down that night. But I love table talk, played all night 'til 7 AM, and had lots of fun, so I considered it not much of a loss.

Another time at the Tropicana, playing 7-card stud, I got four 10's, three of them in the hole. It appeared I was trying to fill an inside straight, and I was looking at hands that could beat that. Oh the fun I had raising THAT time -- they all thought I was stupid!!

But I have related the scams I have seen, and more I surely missed. I will be most careful if we get a casino, making myself stick to a budget. And I hope they don't serve alcohol.


jerry carlton 4 years, 10 months ago

Rhys I agree with all you said but you did not mention the lot lizards, pimps, and strip clubs surrounding the casinos. I think it should be against federal law to serve alcohol or mmj or any other mind altering substance in casinos. It just helps separate fools from their money. In all your casino experience, do you think you are ahead? I think I am up $5.00 but I am an old man and my memory is not that good. Did you get any fresh flounder yet? Make my mouth water just thinking about it. Never eaten East Coast seafood but have had West coast [ 5 years in Seattle} and I do not think you can beat the Gulf of Mexico unless it has BP oil on it.


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