Businesses’ reaction to Hayden casino proposal varies wildly | SteamboatToday.com

Businesses’ reaction to Hayden casino proposal varies wildly

Arlene and Sharon Hart window shop Friday afternoon along Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs. Downtown business owners have a wide range of opinions about the proposal to add a casino in Hayden, and some question its reach beyond western Routt County.

— On Lincoln Avenue, the proposal to build a casino in Hayden is enticing.

It’s also an idea doomed to fail. Or a curiosity. Or a welcome attraction.

It just depends on which business owner you ask.

Hotel owners, retailers and restaurateurs in Steamboat Springs have mixed reactions to the Sleeping Giant Group’s proposal to build a casino 20 miles to the west.

The group of investors pushing for the gambling venue predict its project will bring hundreds of jobs to the Yampa Valley and attract tens of thousands of additional visitors to the area each year.

But many business leaders in town question a casino’s reach beyond western Routt County, and the leader of Steamboat’s signature tourism allure won’t yet say what he thinks of the proposal.

"We’ve decided not to weigh in on this right now," Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Diamond said Thursday. "We will at some point in time. It’s just too early."

Greg Koehler already has an opinion.

The owner of Rabbit Ears Motel said he doesn’t think the gambling and entertainment venue will benefit his hotel on the south end of downtown Steamboat.

"People don’t come to Steamboat to gamble," he said Thursday. "My customers come for the outdoor activities and to do all the things they like to do in Steamboat. I don’t think a casino is on that list, but I could be wrong."

He added that he is concerned a new casino and hotel in Hayden could do more to take away from his business than to add to it.

Johnny B. Good’s Diner owner Mike Diemer has a different view.

He sees a gambling facility in the Yampa Valley as an economic boon with the potential to benefit Hayden and Steamboat.

"I think it would tremendously benefit Steamboat businesses and bring a whole new clientele here," Diemer said. "A lot of people are going to stay in Steamboat and play in Hayden, which is something we haven’t said in a while, maybe forever."

A shop owner a couple of blocks away from Diemer’s diner sees the casino as an idea doomed to fail.

"I just can’t imagine it’s going to make it," longtime Jewelry and Fossil Shop of Steamboat Manager Rita Heron said. "I think people here are broke enough without people tempting them to spend more money they don’t have."

Mambo Italiano’s Andy George, Urbane’s Mel LeBlanc and Bucking Rainbow Outfitters’ John Duty were among the business owners who said Thursday that they don’t know enough about the casino to predict whether it would benefit or detract from their businesses.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett said she hasn’t gotten the pulse on how the downtown businesses she represents feel about the casino, but she said she has serious concerns about the project’s potential to restrict the labor pool.

She added the casino has the potential to absorb workers who commute to Steamboat from Hayden and Craig and potentially force local retailers, hotels and restaurants to pay higher wages to retain and hire employees.

In a public meeting about the casino last month, Sleeping Giant Group investor Steve Hofman acknowledged a casino in Hayden likely will increase labor costs in the Yampa Valley, but he predicted business owners would welcome that shift because it would carry with it more revenue and visitor traffic.

"Generally speaking, what the businesses are saying is, ‘Look, if I have a greater demand for my services and products, then of course I don’t mind paying more for labor,’" Hofman said Thursday. The casino “will help stabilize and regularize the labor market."

While many in Steamboat have a positive or negative opinion on the casino, some see it as a wash.

Scott Marr, owner of Steamboat’s Holiday Inn, doesn’t think the Sleeping Giant Group’s proposal will help, or hurt, anyone outside of Hayden.

"I don’t think it will have a negative impact. It will just have no impact," he said. "Hayden is kind of its own thing, and people who go to gamble go to gamble. I don’t see someone putting together a combination skiing/gambling vacation."

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com