Steve Hofman, left, and Johnny Spillane are leading an effort to explore the viability of building a casino, hotel and entertainment venue near Yampa Valley Regional Airport. They are working with business partners Dave Marin, of Hayden, Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten and his business partner Bob Zibel.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steve Hofman, left, and Johnny Spillane are leading an effort to explore the viability of building a casino, hotel and entertainment venue near Yampa Valley Regional Airport. They are working with business partners Dave Marin, of Hayden, Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten and his business partner Bob Zibel.

Casino is being explored near Hayden airport


— 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.

The partnership faces many hurdles along the way, including winning the support of surrounding communities, finding an American Indian tribe to work with, jumping through the federal regulatory hoops and getting approval from the governor.

“We’re still definitely in the process of gathering information,” said Steve Hofman, one of the group’s partners. “If we reach the point that we say that the project’s not viable, we’ll say that.”

Spillane discussed the idea Thursday with Hofman, a Steamboat resident who spent much of his career in Washington, D.C., and was a U.S. assistant secretary of labor under former President George H. W. Bush.

Meetings have been held with business leaders and council members in Hayden, Craig and Steamboat, with the goal of soliciting feedback before plans went “too far down the road,” Spillane said.

“We’re going out of our way to do this slowly and to do this right,” he said.

Hofman said that future market research would determine how big the development would be and that the group is in the process of researching what the economic impact would be.

“The numbers that we have are very positive,” Spillane said. “We’re making sure we have the best info possible before we put it out there.”

Hofman said that the group is moving forward and that it envisions a project that would generate jobs, provide profit sharing for impacted communities and create more of a draw for tourism year-round.

“We don’t anticipate people looking at this and coming to this valley to gamble exclusively,” Spillane said. “This is something that will attract people in a way that other ski areas and other outdoor areas can’t do. It’s just an added benefit to what already exists.”

Hofman said the other men involved in the partnership are Hayden resident Dave Marin, Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten and his business partner Bob Zibel. Nijsten and Zibel developed the Creek View project on the west side of Hayden, and Zibel owns a 187-acre parcel along Routt County Road 51A just northeast of YVRA.

Hofman said that the location by the airport makes sense because the airport needs a hotel and that a casino and entertainment venue would be a regional draw.

“We see this as a piece of regional economic development,” Hofman said. “If it were to be just at the ski area, there would be the sense that it’s just about Steamboat, and it’s not. It’s about the valley.”

Hofman said recent regulatory changes make the possibility of building a casino more of a reality. He said the group needs to find an American Indian tribe that would own the casino and a firm to manage it. Gaining regulatory approval would be expensive, Hofman said, and the governor would have to sign off.

“We’re not going to ask our governor to support a project that our community doesn’t support,” Hofman said.

It could be two or more years before any building started, Hofman said.

Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky called the project interesting and said it was too early to say whether he would support it.

“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 said.

Craig City Council member Ray Beck said he thought the plan presented potential opportunities.

“It appeared like this was going to be a huge opportunity for economic development and job growth benefiting the whole valley,” said Beck, who also is on the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Commission.

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.”

In July 1999, the Northern Ute Indian Tribe approached the town about building a casino near the airport. A survey of 450 Hayden residents found that 70 percent were against it, and the Hayden Town Board voted unanimously to deny the proposal.

Spillane committed to skiing

Since the 2010 Olympics, Spillane, 31, said he has been considering options for when his Nordic combined career ends. He said he was approached by Hofman in spring 2011 about the casino project.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘Yes, I would be interested in it,’ and it’s something that I feel is really exciting for the valley and the communities it would affect because it’s something that can set our tourist industry ... apart from anything else that’s in Colorado.

Hofman said Spillane’s partnership has more to do with Spillane’s deep roots in the community than it does with his celebrity status.

“My role in this is not going to be someone who stands at the front and is going to sign autographs for people to come inside a casino,” Spillane said. “My intention is to be a partner and do everything I can do to make sure this is a project we can all be proud of.”

Spillane said he talked with his coach Thursday and told him that he would continue preparing and training to compete the same as he has the past 15 years.

“This is a big project, and if and when it moves forward, if it requires more of my time, I will re-evaluate. ... But right now, I have every intention of continuing to be an athlete and a competitor,” Spillane said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email

Where the casino is planned

View Planned casino in a larger map


Brian Kotowski 5 years, 2 months ago

Color me skeptical. On the other hand, I know any number of people who go to Black Hawk every chance they get.


jerry carlton 5 years, 2 months ago

Phoebe Legal MMJ is coming in November. We can legalize prostitution, strip bars, and to really get ahead of Nevada and other competing states we can legalize cocaine and heroin. We already have a start in the heroin trade and cocaine has been here forever. We can rename ourselves Sin Town USA. Anything to bring economic development and the dollars flowing into town.

On a serious note, hope your mom is doing well.


Phoebe Hackman 5 years, 2 months ago

I was hoping to get Essam to expound a little on his comment. I'm not adverse to gambling, although it's not my thing. There are quite a few casinos here in Washington. Gambling is legal in the zone beginning right across the street from where my mom lives, although the nearest actual casino is a couple of miles away. Gambling doesn't seem to have adversely affected society here. It's just another business that pays taxes and creates jobs. Everyone keeps saying we need to diversify commerce and not depend so much on the ski industry. Gambling and, sure, why not prostitution, won't pollute the air, contaminate ground water or cause earthquakes. (Well, maybe small earthquakes, if you're with the right gal.) Ditto for legal pakalolo. Legalizing mj should free up the police to focus on coke, crack and smack.

Mom has had a toe infection from hell, so we're not going far from home these days, since she can't get a shoe on that foot. While we're waiting for the clinic to get a boot in her size, we spent some time one afternoon fabricating a custom sole out of duct tape for a sock, with straps across the top, which she decorated with rhinestones. It's quite fashionable. Otherwise, she's hanging in there, and nothing can keep her from enjoying lunch and a martini every week day with her 90 year old boyfriend, ha!


Ulrich Salzgeber 5 years, 2 months ago

This proposal is nothing new. A very similar proposal was put forth during the 1990's by a coalition of Native Americans. If memory serves me correctly (and it often does not) the logistics became too complicated and the concept was dropped. Hey, we gamble all the time anyway whether it be skiing or particularly if you invest in the Stock Market. Phoebe, I like the earthquake comment!


jerry carlton 5 years, 2 months ago

Phoebe Hope your mom's foot heals up. God bless you for taking care of her.

Ulrich I have been investing in the stock market since I was 14 years old which is 53 years ago. Unless some one is the stupidest person on earth, the odds in the stock market are much better than casino gambling. I own a house on 5 acres that is paid for, I no longer work for a living, and that is in large part a direct result of starting investing 53 years ago. If I had been casino gambling for 53 years I really doubt that I would enjoy the lifestyle I do now. In casino gambling, the house never loses!


Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 2 months ago

For us, gambling is fun but we go to Las Vegas. We don't gamble much so seeing the hotels & shows in LV makes it worth the trip for a few days. We don't even go to Blackhawk to gamble. It's the atmosphere of LV that makes it fun, whether you gamble or not. Granted, it's not everyone's type of city, but it's great for people watching. Get some of my onstage characterizations from people watching in LV. LOL!


Kevin Nerney 5 years, 2 months ago

Few things irk me more than the phrase "We tried that years ago." Hence the reason so many people are for term limits. When guys like Strom Thurmond and Ted Kennedy can spend their entire adult lives in the same job its amazing anything gets accomplished. As Bob Dylan use to say "The times they are a-changin'". 370 people in Hayden shouldn't be allowed to dictate the direction of the whole county. I'm sure the dynamics of Hayden have changed in the 15 years since this was last discussed. Old folks have died off and new blood has come and gone with the economy. We need to get the economy to be much more consistent on a year round basis and then people will be less likely to leave so quickly. So count me in.


Dr. Rick Bettger 5 years, 2 months ago

Great Idea.....Gambling is just another form of entertainment PERIOD. Why Not?, it will bring jobs to our valley, it provides people who come here to SKI, FISH, HIKE, BIKE, GOLF, HUNT and etc,. something else to do in our valley. Many people leave our valley to gamble in Vegas and Black Hawk let them stay here and spend and hope win some money here......GREAT IDEA.....Let's Go for it!!!


jerry carlton 5 years, 1 month ago

coach1 What kind of Doctor are you? Are you familiar with the term addictive behavior? In some instances gambling can go way beyond entertainment.


rhys jones 5 years, 1 month ago

I've been known to combine addictions, and poker goes with lots of things.


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