Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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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.”
Rose: “So you know nobody, hardly, that over the stretch of time is ahead.”
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 rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.