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Steve Hofman: Get educated

Kristopher L. Hammond's letter to the editor ("Build casino for me," Sept. 9, 2012) regarding the proposed casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport contains many assertions but few supporting facts.

One assertion is that a casino will produce higher crime and unwanted commercial activity. Unlike Mr. Hammond, I won't attempt to predict the future. Instead, here are a few facts from the recent past that speak to the crime question.

Both Steamboat Springs and Hayden have relatively low crime rates, at 233.9 and 211.5 crimes per 100,000 residents, respectively, from 2002 to 2010, according to statistics compiled by http://www.citydata.com. Yet both areas have crimes rates higher than many areas with nearby casinos, including South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Calif., and Traverse City, Mich., to name just three. Are there jurisdictions with casinos across the country experiencing crime rates higher than the Yampa Valley? Of course there are. One recent letter to the editor sought to draw a parallel between Philadelphia and the Yampa Valley on that score. The only parallel, however, is that both are located in the continental U.S. The culture and values of an area are what define an area, not the presence of a casino or other types of popular entertainment.

Mr. Hammond also asserts that bankruptcies, foreclosures and evictions will rise with the coming of a casino to Hayden. This belief is not supported by respected, independent research. A study by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found that communities closest to casinos experienced a 12 to 17 percent drop in welfare payments, unemployment rates and unemployment insurance after the introduction of casino gaming. Another study found that "access by individuals to casino gaming facilities was found to have no statistically significant impact on personal bankruptcy filings."

The assertions made by Mr. Hammond, most significantly, are not supported by people who are in a far better position to judge the effects of a casino on surrounding communities — the community leaders in places where casinos operate. Peter Hart, co-pollster for the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll and an adviser to numerous Democratic Party national leaders, looked at this question. He surveyed 201 local community leaders, including mayors, council members, police chiefs and business leaders. Seventy-five percent said they would vote to allow casinos if they could go back and do it all again. Few of those surveyed cited the concerns of casino opponents as actual problems: crime (6 percent), traffic problems (5 percent), social or family problems (4 percent), higher poverty or bankruptcies (9 percent). Mr. Hammond thinks his law practice will grow significantly with the coming of a casino. Although I'm not much of a gambler, the data does not point to this as a good bet.

When I and my partners in the Sleeping Giant Group first began exploring the viability of a casino near YVRA, we recognized that there would be some members of the community who would, for a variety of reasons, resist such a proposal. Yet we believed, and still believe, that as this project moves ahead, most people will seek to make an informed judgment based upon facts rather than assertions or opinions. Indeed, almost 800 unique visitors have come to our website, http://www.sleep

inggiantgroup.com, and have stayed an average of almost four minutes per visit. Whether or not a casino and other venues focused on entertainment come to this valley, we take heart in the interest shown by many residents and in the recent suggestion made by the Craig Daily Press Editorial Board, which wrote: "People will still choose sides when it comes to the proposed casino in Hayden. But if they educate themselves first, it increases the community's chances of making the right decision. And in the end, that's what matters most."

Steve Hofman

Partner, Sleeping Giant Group