Rob Douglas: Casino falls short on public policy
August 30, 2012
"The issue of Indian gaming engenders strong feelings among many parties." – Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Those are the first words Secretary Salazar wrote in the June 18, 2010, memorandum "Decisions on Indian Gaming Applications" that eventually led to the relaxation of federal guidelines for holding land-in-trust for the purpose of off-reservation Indian gaming.
Two years later, Sleeping Giant Group's proposed development of an Indian casino on non-reservation land in Hayden provides credence to Salazar's words as cultural, economic and even geographic fault lines are starting to divide those in support of a casino from those opposed. However, before getting mired in arguments about gambling per se, the proposed casino should be evaluated on the basis of whether it meets the public policy goals at the heart of Indian gaming laws.
Salazar was careful to identify the justification for Indian gaming in his memorandum, writing, "There is no question that gaming has provided important economic opportunities for some tribes. Indeed, Congress' declared policy under IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) was to provide a basis for gaming by tribes 'as a means of promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments.'"
Significantly, even before identifying "tribal economic development" as the foundation for Indian gaming, Salazar wrote, "Of the 564 federally recognized tribes, less than half, or 238 tribes, operate gaming facilities under tribal-state compacts."
Arguably, Salazar's directive to reassess the approval process for off-reservation Indian gaming was intended to address a concern that a majority of tribes were seemingly barred under the prevailing guidelines from gaming revenue as a means of economic development. Unquestionably, providing revenue for the economic development of Indian tribes is the primary function of Indian gaming.
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In that light, Sleeping Giant Group's casino proposal is suspect. Instead of first identifying a tribe that would benefit economically from an off-reservation casino, the group has framed the casino as economic development for the overwhelmingly non-Native American population of Northwest Colorado. In fact, Sleeping Giant Group's mission statement makes no mention of economic benefit for Native Americans, and the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website candidly acknowledges that a Native American casino "provides the best option under existing law and regulation to bring such a venue (casino and entertainment center) to Routt County." Further, the Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes — the two tribes Sleeping Giant Group has identified as viable potential partners — have existing casinos, unlike more than 200 other tribes without casino revenue for economic development.
Bottom line: The Sleeping Giant Group's casino proposal is clearly not premised on "promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments" in keeping with federal Indian gaming public policy.
Time will tell if the group's attempt to shoehorn their proposed casino into current Indian gaming guidelines is successful. But as we begin to focus on the myriad questions raised by the introduction of a casino into the Yampa Valley, let's not pretend this proposed casino is for the benefit of Native Americans.
Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.