Steamboat residents share thoughts on casino project | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat residents share thoughts on casino project

Community members listen Monday night to members of the Sleeping Giant Group during a meeting at Olympian Hall about the proposed casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.

— At times, Monday night's informational meeting in Steamboat Springs about a proposed casino in Hayden sounded more like a heated, high-stakes debate.

Steamboat resident Bill Cousins' concern about a gambling venue's potential social impact on the Yampa Valley was met with a swift round of applause from some members of the audience.

"Steamboat does have a family image, and just the context of gambling doesn't resonate with me," Cousins said. "I don't think it resonates with most of us."

Minutes later, a woman sitting a couple of chairs away got a round of applause for sharing a different point of view.

"I love it," Hayden resident Chris Guire said about the proposal to build the casino a few miles from her home in West Routt County. "I think it's an innovative idea. To bring something unique here I think is an incredible opportunity."

For more than two hours, the community members who packed Olympian Hall eagerly raised their hands to find out more about the project and to simply speak their minds.

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Some questioned the economics and ethics behind the proposal while others praised it for its potential benefits.

Digesting all of the feedback and inquisitions from the front of the room were the partners in the Sleeping Giant Group, the organization pursuing the casino.

"This activity makes us stronger," Sleeping Giant partner Steve Hofman said about the meeting. "When people bring their heartfelt views to the conversation, we all benefit from it."

Monday's meeting in Steamboat followed a similar community forum in Hayden that attracted more than 100 people. The Sleeping Giant Group plans to travel to Craig next and make its pitch one more time.

Hofman and his business partners kicked off their meeting in Steamboat by acknowledging that community support, or a lack thereof, could determine whether their casino will sink or sail.

"We understand the governor will never approve an application (for the casino) unless the community comes together to say, 'Yes, we want this to happen, and this is what it's going to look like,’" Hofman said. "It is a complex, protracted, significant process and one in which at various steps in the process, all of the community will be intricately involved."

Hofman wouldn't say whether any residents in Routt and Moffat counties will end up voting on such a proposal like Hayden did in 1999, when residents there ultimately rejected a gambling facility.

Instead, he envisioned the governments of Craig, Hayden and Steamboat holding public hearings to gauge their constituents' support of the project. He said that for the casino to earn approval from the state, leaders of those three cities will have to sign off on a memorandum of understanding with the Indian tribe chosen to own the facility.

During the Q-and-A portion of Monday's meeting, Hofman often played defense as he talked about the casino and its merits. He was able to please some in the audience with the details of the casino he branded as an economic boon capable of adding nearly 1,000 jobs.

A marketing study done for the Sleeping Giant Group also predicted the facility could bring an extra 58,000 visitors to Steamboat each year.

But Hofman tried to assure the audience that the Yampa Valley will not become the next Blackhawk or Central City. He also clicked through polls and data that claimed most Americans support gambling.

Still, the casino has many hurdles to clear, and community members are likely to have more opportunities to weigh in on the project.

Steamboat resident Pat Thomas already has made up her mind.

"We're hearing all about the numbers and the dollars and cents, but think about it people, this is going to change our community," she said at the meeting. "And is it going to change it the way we want? I say no."

While they engage the community, Hofman and the other organizers are talking with potential management companies for the casino. He said his group already has spent about $250,000 on the studies and preliminary groundwork for the project.

According to a timeline shared at the meeting, the Sleeping Giant Group hopes to select an Indian tribe to work with by the end of September. The prospective choices include the Northern Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

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

Online

Learn more about the proposed casino project at the development group’s website http://www.sleepinggiantgroup.com.