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Steamboat Springs The local group proposing a casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport was dealt a significant blow during a meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration Tuesday.
During the 35-minute meeting at Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia’s office in Denver, Sleeping Giant Group partner Steve Hofman was told Hickenlooper's administration doesn't support off-reservation casinos in Colorado.
“Right now, we don’t see that Coloradans in general are supportive of more gaming, and we do not see — based on the casinos that are in existence now — that it is likely that a new casino operation, wherever it was located in Colorado, would be terribly successful,” Garcia said in a telephone interview with the Steamboat Today after his meeting with Hofman.
Garcia, who acts as the head of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, said Hickenlooper and his administration recently learned about the two off-reservation casinos being proposed in Northwest Colorado. The town of Dinosaur is working with the Northern Ute Indian Tribe of Utah on plans for a casino there. Hofman’s Sleeping Giant Group has yet to identify an Indian tribe to work with, but the group has hosted informational meetings to discuss the idea in Craig, Hayden and Steamboat Springs.
“It came to our attention recently,” Garcia said. “We thought it would be fair to those tribes and those business interests that were talking about it ... if we give them some advance notification of where we are so they could keep that in mind as they are investing money into studies and finding partners and looking at locations. We thought it would be in their best interest if we let them know ahead of time how we felt.”
Two on-reservation casinos exist in Colorado in addition to dozens of commercial casinos allowed explicitly in the communities of Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City. Garcia said Colorado voters have been “kind of lukewarm” on expanded gambling, and he said the existing casinos have failed to create the expected revenues intended to help fund community colleges.
“We do know that where it exists currently in the state, projections have really not been met, and so we just don’t see that it’s going to serve any particular need right now,” Garcia said. “We’re not sure that we want to increase competition for existing businesses when we’re not sure that the economic projections are realistic.”
Garcia said he has not spoken with any of Colorado's commercial casino operators about the off-reservation casino proposals in Hayden and Dinosaur.
“Frankly, we haven't had that conversation with them,” Garcia said. “My guess is that they might be opposed — as any other business would be to new competition — but we have not asked them that question directly.”
During Tuesday's meeting with Hofman, Garcia said the fact that Hickenlooper’s first term in office is up in two years was discussed.
“As we said to Steve, given the timeline of these things, it’s entirely possible that a future governor might have to make this decision,” Garcia said. “All we could tell him was what this governor thought about this possibility, and this governor’s not supportive.”
The Sleeping Giant Group hoped to complete the federal approval process in 18 months and then have it on Hickenlooper’s desk. The governor then would have one year to make a decision.
Hofman called Tuesday's meeting disappointing but not surprising. He said Garcia knew nothing about the project and was not even sure where Hayden is. Hofman said that even after telling Garcia about the project and its potential economic impacts, Garcia was unwilling to show “any degree of consideration.”
“I briefed him on our findings, and he really didn’t seem particularly interested in any of that,” said Hofman, who added he thought the governor’s opinion was premature.
During the meeting, it became clear to Hofman that the administration was not going to budge. He thinks Front Range interests could be to blame.
“The governor’s office to the Yampa Valley: Drop dead,” Hofman said.
Despite the setback, Hofman said his group would keep moving forward with the project, and this fall, it plans to approach tribes about owning and operating the casino, a structure required by federal law.
“At the end of the day, what this does is kind of sharpen the question for the community,” Hofman said. “If there are people in the community who feel as if this should be something that should at least be worthy of additional consideration, they need to make their voices heard to the governor. This project has always been in my mind a project that was worth moving forward if it became a project that the community embraced.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com