If the Ute indian tribe pushes to go through with a tentative proposal to build a casino in Craig, it will face a group of residents strongly opposed to it a small group.
About 10 Craig residents who oppose the casino proposal met Wednesday night to organize a group that would fight having a casino. Whether or not the fight will ever take place, no knows for sure: not the organizers of the opposition group, city leaders or representative from the tribe.
Representatives from the Ute Indian tribe held an informational meeting Dec. 5 at the Craig Holiday Inn to see if residents would welcome an Indian-run, low-stakes casino.
Sunstone Hotels, which owns of the Holiday Inn, invited the tribe to come and get an idea if the community would support a casino. If the tribe decides to build in Craig, Sunstone said it would supply land adjacent to the hotel to build on if the Utes agreed to construct a road connecting the casino to the Holiday Inn.
Acting on the advice from the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG), Frank Moe, owner of Craig's Ramada Inn, called for residents who oppose the casino to meet. Moe said the NCALG suggested casino opponents organize themselves now, in case the tribe pursues the project.
Confusion and conflict surround the controversial issue.
Moe's comments as to whether the tribe will push to build the casino and if residents will have a say if in the matter conflict with those of Max Adams, a Ute representative who led the Dec. 5 meeting.
"He (Adams) basically said the citizens of Moffat county will have to do what their leaders do or tell them," Moe said.
During the public meeting, Adams said, "We are not going to try to build anything here the community doesn't want." He also said the decision to move forward with the casino would have to be made by the people and leaders of Craig; the tribe will wait to hear from Craig officials.
No community leaders have contacted the tribe regarding the casino, placing everything on hold for now, Adams said.
"We don't have a next step," he said. "We aren't going to pursue this unless the town of Craig supports it."
Adams said last week's meeting was preliminary. The tribe wanted to find out if it would have the city's support, and if it should look further into the project.
"Our own governing body hasn't made a decision that they are even willing to do this project yet," Adams said. "A lot of money would be involved. If the risks outweigh the advantages, then you don't do it. It was an exploratory type of thing."
If the people and leaders of Craig asked the tribe to come back to the city and discuss the proposal further, Ute representatives would most likely come, Adams said.
"My personal opinion is this could be a good thing for Craig, Colo.," he said. Adams explained that Craig's tax revenue is down because people spend their cash in Steamboat Springs and shop via the Internet. He felt the casino could bring the area needed revenue.
The majority of the people at the opposition meeting felt the casino would bring nothing but trouble to Craig, and Moe didn't think the tribe would give up easily.
"Guess what folks, it's not over," Moe said.
"When they're proposing a casino, they don't tell you about the bad things," he said.
Moe fears that without an organized, informed opposition group that can present its case before the Craig City Council in a professional manner, the Utes could blindside residents by coming unexpectedly at a City Council meeting with public relations people and attorneys, proposing the casino, and beginning the process to gain permission to build.
"This group (NCALG) said we've basically got to stop it before it goes too far along," Moe said. "(The casinos) love to come into communities like this, and they like to use money to persuade people."
The NCALG told Moe that casino developers use certain tactics to gain permission to build in communities. Developers often bring their proposals to communities in December, just as residents are preoccupied with the holidays, Moe said. The NCALG warned Moe that a community must organize itself to fight the casino before the tribe begins the process, because residents won't have time to organize once the process starts.
In last week's meeting, Sandy Hansen, an attorney for the Ute tribe, stressed the Utes couldn't build a casino in Craig without the community's support. Gaining the resident's support is the first step in gaining permission from the government to build a gaming facility off tribal property, she said.
"If the community doesn't support us coming here, it doesn't mean we won't come here, it means we can't come here," Hansen said.
Moe and the other residents at the meeting said they had not talked to any city officials or tribal representatives about the status of the proposal since the last meeting. Moe wanted to get the opposition group organized before doing so, he said.
Crime, alcoholism, negative impacts on the area's economy and believing that gambling is "morally wrong" are some of the reasons the group gave for opposing the casino.
The group did decide they couldn't oppose the proposal because of its moral impact because they felt the community wouldn't support a moral argument.
One member of the group, who wouldn't identify himself, said he was worried the casino would cause an outflow of money, rather than the inflow the tribal representatives claim it would.
"The worst investment in the world is paying $1 for a lottery ticket," he said. "The people that drain the community of social resources ... Those are the people who are going to burn their paychecks (at the casino)."
"I don't want to live in a Blackhawk or a Central City," he continued. "I'm not saying it's going to become that, but I don't want to live there."
Lynne Herring, owner of Colorado West Bottled Water and Ice in Craig, said she fears the casino would put her out of business.
"I see my business closing down because the casino will pay $15 an hour for people to work over there, and I can't afford that," she said. Herring said she can only afford to pay her employees minimum wage.
Bob Trevenen said he would like to hear what city leaders none of whom were present have to say about the casino.
"It's hard for me to see a gripe session start. Why don't we have our mayor invited to a meeting like this our City Council instead of you [Moe] telling us 'I don't know how this is done or that's done.'"
Trevenen later added, "We're opposed to it. It's a moral issue with us as church members."
He said he fears residents would face the same fate as those in Blackhawk and Central City who had to move from their homes when they couldn't afford to pay the increased taxes the casino brought. "The rest of my family is for it," Trevenen said. "They enjoy gambling. I don't."
Resident Mary Ann Horrocks also voiced her opposition to the casino.
"We already accepted a little bit of gambling when we accepted the Lotto into the state," she said. "Cripple Creek has not gained from their endeavor. It's not a win-win situation."
Chuck Malley attended to the meeting to hear people's views on the issue, as well as obtain more information.
"I think it's fair to hear both sides," he said. "Anything can be a good thing or a bad thing."
Malley felt the casino would bring jobs and a non-polluting industry to Craig, but there would also be downsides, he said.
"God bless 'em," he said. "It's their belief it's a sin to gamble, and they're allowed to have those beliefs."
Adams said the Utes would look into other business opportunities in Craig for the tribe to invest in if residents presented them to the Utes.
"We're trying to do things that produce incomes and jobs," he said. "We're not a great big philanthropy. We want to make money."
Herring said she didn't believe the tribe would seriously consider any proposals other than the casino. "Do I have stupid written across my forehead?" she said. She feels the tribe would only use the community to make money, and it wouldn't invest in it or care about the people in it, she said.
City Manager Jim Ferree said he hasn't heard anything from the Ute tribe about the casino since the Dec. 5 meeting. City officials are sitting back and waiting to hear residents' reactions.
"I just haven't had any calls. There's been very little input since that meeting," he said.
The City Council won't pursue the issue unless it feels it has a majority of the community's support. "I just don't know that there isn't a lot of support out there, but we sure haven't heard it," he said.
Right now, the Council doesn't have plans to discuss the casino in its agenda, but there is always a time set aside for residents to comment on issues not on the agenda, Ferree said.
Ferree doesn't see the proposal moving forward in the near future, but that could change if the Council hears from several proponents.