Rob Douglas: Casino raises questions | SteamboatToday.com

Rob Douglas: Casino raises questions

Rob Douglas

— The image of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding Yampa Valley is that of a family friendly, Western ranching community that is home to one of the world's premier ski resorts, trophy elk hunting, world-class fly-fishing and a growing road and mountain biking scene.

Will gambling be added to that image?

It will if a small group of local entrepreneurs succeed in opening a casino.

On March 22, the Steamboat Today reported that "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." Spillane's development partners include Steamboat resident Steve Hofman, a former U.S. assistant secretary of labor under former President George H. W. Bush; Hayden resident Dave Marin; Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten; and his business partner Bob Zibel. Zibel owns a 187-acre parcel along Routt County Road 51A near the airport that would serve as the site for the casino and hotel. The development group plans to partner with an American Indian tribe.

The development group already has conducted meetings with business leaders and council members in Hayden, Craig and Steamboat to obtain feedback as part of a process requiring federal approval to develop the casino under U.S. Indian gaming laws. The casino also will require approval from the governor of Colorado and, according to Hofman, the developers are "not going to ask our governor to support a project that our community doesn't support."

Given that it's been almost three months since the first public report about this gambling venture, and given that the developers have been holding private meetings with elected officials and community leaders since last year, it's time for our local elected representatives and the developers to hold public meetings so they can receive feedback from local residents who will be impacted — positively or negatively — by the introduction of an Indian casino in the Yampa Valley.

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After all, in the March 22 article, Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky said, "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 is only half-right. The responsibility for educating the public and seeking feedback about the plans for an Indian casino doesn't just lie with the developers; it lies with every elected body that represents citizens in Northwest Colorado. It is the duty of our local officials to represent to the governor and federal authorities our various communities' views about the possible development of an Indian casino here in the valley. Responsible representation requires probing questions at public hearings designed to fully explore the economic and societal realities of what an Indian casino would mean for all citizens and businesses.

Serious public policy issues raised by this proposed Indian casino include:

Why are the developers partnering with an American Indian tribe? Under federal Indian gaming laws, what authority do local elected officials and governmental bodies have over the approval and operation of an Indian casino? Is non-Indian reservation land by Yampa Valley Regional Airport justifiable for use as an Indian casino? What impact will a casino, hotel and entertainment complex at the airport have on local businesses throughout the valley? Does an Indian casino pay the same taxes as all other businesses? What impact will casino gambling have on the image of the Yampa Valley?

These are only a few of the dozens of public policy questions that surround any decision to build a casino — much less a casino that will be governed by federal Indian gaming laws.

Given the serious issues raised, it's time for a development process that has been under way behind closed doors to be vetted publicly. That way, everyone can begin to examine the pros and cons of an Indian casino in the Yampa Valley. If our elected representatives are too timid to initiate a public process they should have started the moment they got wind of this development — as opposed to waiting for the developers to set the timeline — then other avenues of representation to the governor and federal officials should be explored by interested citizens and organizations.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C., private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

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