Hayden casino proponents not backing down | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden casino proponents not backing down

— Gov. John Hickenlooper may not like the idea, but the Sleeping Giant Group is proceeding with its plans to build an off-reservation casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Sleeping Giant Group’s Steve Hofman said Friday that the group has stuck to its timeline, including beginning conversations this fall with Indian tribal representatives who might want to own the casino.

"We have a sense that there is some real interest in what this market represents and what we have done so far on the project," said Hofman, a Steamboat Springs resident.

Hofman would not say how many tribes are participating in the conversations or how those conversations have taken place.

The Sleeping Giant Group has made one noticeable change to its strategy since Hickenlooper’s administration said outright earlier this year that it wouldn’t support any new casinos in Colorado. After holding community informational meetings in Hayden, Steamboat and Craig, the Sleeping Giant Group had planned to hire a firm that would be tasked with talking with interested Indian tribes. Instead, that outreach is being done by the development group itself.

"We haven't had the need to hire the type of representation that we thought would be necessary," Hofman said.

In addition to talking directly with tribes, Hofman said, the partners in the Sleeping Giant Group are meeting weekly and have busy agendas. During the second week of December, Hofman said he is going to Washington, D.C., and will visit with law firms that specialize in preparing the paperwork necessary for federal gaming approvals.

The next couple of months are crucial for the project, Hofman said, and the next step is to identify a tribe that wants to work with the Sleeping Giant Group.

"Either we'll hit a brick wall or we'll have success," Hofman said.

After a tribe is identified, the group would work with that tribe in the costly process of preparing an application and submitting it to federal regulators.

Colorado's governor ultimately would have to sign off on the project. And as they made clear in September, neither Hickenlooper nor Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia are fans.

"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," Garcia said in a September telephone interview with the Steamboat Today.

Members of the Sleeping Giant Group as well as some local officials thought the Hickenlooper administration’s position was premature, but Hofman does not think it killed the project.

"I don't think that message is one that has been well received," Hofman said.

By the time a governor’s approval of an off-reservation casino in Hayden would be needed, Colorado could have a different governor, or Hickenlooper could have a change of heart.

"Bear in mind what the governor and lieutenant governor said was ‘at this time,'” Hofman said.

If Hickenlooper came to Hayden, Hayden town council member Bill Hayden said Saturday that he would tell the governor that he was wrong and that his opinion on the casino project was premature.

"The people in Hayden are generally very supportive," said Hayden, adding that he is happy the Sleeping Giant Group is moving forward with its plans.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com