Dinosaur town councilman Richard Blakley looks out on a 155-acre tract of land known as the old Papoulas ranch. The ranch, now owned by 6440, LLC in Cleveland, is one of two proposed sites for an Indian gaming facility.

Photo by Joe Moylan

Dinosaur town councilman Richard Blakley looks out on a 155-acre tract of land known as the old Papoulas ranch. The ranch, now owned by 6440, LLC in Cleveland, is one of two proposed sites for an Indian gaming facility.

Dinosaur officials: Casino could help revitalize economy

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This Welcome to Dinosaur sign may be greeting a lot more people in the near future. Town officials are currently working on an agreement with the Ute Indian Tribe to bring a resort gaming facility to the small town 90 miles west of Craig.

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Mayor L.D. Smith, left, and town councilman Toby Cortez pose at the B & B Restaurant in Dinosaur. In an effort to boost the town’s economy, officials are considering a partnership with the Ute Indian Tribe to bring a gaming facility to Dinosaur.

L.D. Smith, Dinosaur town mayor, borrows a line from a famous movie when asked about the potential for a casino resort development in his small town.

“If you build it, they will come,” Smith said, echoing “Field of Dreams.” “Without a doubt.”

Sitting in the B & B Restaurant on the east end of town, Smith backs the casino idea because he said it would help the town and its residents, people who deserve good fortune.

“I got into a motorcycle accident a few years back and broke both my arms,” Smith said. “I had people coming over cooking me dinner. In all the years I lived in Junction, that never happened once.

“When things go bad, the people of this town rally and support one another.”

Smith said Dinosaur’s struggling economy turned after the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but when we put a (drilling) moratorium on the Gulf, we put a moratorium on the entire country,” Smith said. “Salazar shut it all down.

“Within two weeks, 32,000 jobs in Alaska were gone, 72,000 in the Rocky Mountains.

“That hurt the natural gas and oil industries in this area, which we depend on.”

Smith also said reduced tax revenue over the years has hurt Dinosaur. He estimates that of the town’s 330 residents, approximately one-third are retired, living off Social Security or some other pension and therefore not contributing greatly to the town tax base.

“Which is fine,” Smith said. “These people have worked hard their whole lives and they’ve earned the right, but that doesn’t change the fact we have less and less coming into our coffers each year.”

Rather than raise taxes and hike water and sewage bills, Smith and town officials began exploring options.

“I can raise taxes tomorrow if I want to,” Smith said. “But, I don’t. I don’t believe in raising taxes on anyone, but we’ve reached a point where we can’t afford basic services.

“If we don’t make a serious move forward, raising taxes will be the only option, and that will only be good enough to get us by.”

Town councilman Richard Blakley agrees.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re sure not standing still,” Blakley said. “We’ve been in reverse for a long time.”

Smith said talks with the Ute tribe about the casino project have been ongoing for some time, but they kicked into gear last spring.

Since then, Smith has been doing his homework, conducting his own studies and working on a potential site. He anticipates any resident opposition to the casino will be based largely on unwanted population growth and crime.

“The casino down in Ignacio is the best comparison to us I could make,” Smith said. “When they started their casino project, they had a population of about 500. Today it’s 645, which isn’t that bad.”

Councilman Toby Cortez said the public’s perception of casino-related crime is misguided because it is largely based on television and Las Vegas rumors.

“You have to remember that this is an Indian casino,” Cortez said. “It’s not Vegas or even the state mandated casinos in Colorado. By law, you cannot drink on the gaming floor. You can get a beer in the bar or the restaurant, but it’s not wild and out of control like a lot people think.”

Smith added that the facility in Ignacio is a beautiful place and it succeeds by being a family destination with as many activities for kids as adults.

He said the goal is to create a similar family-friendly environment in Dinosaur.

Local business owners Tammy and Mike Warden are excited about the possibility of a casino in town.

“We think it’s a great idea,” Tammy said. “We’ve been to the casino in Cortez and it’s the nicest hotel and restaurant. There’s no riff raff.”

The Wardens own Hi-Vu Motel and depend on tourism for their business, but said they’re not worried about competing with a casino hotel.

“We turn so many people away already,” Tammy said. “We’d much rather send them down the road instead of sending them to Rangely or Vernal.”

The Wardens think a casino would be an immediate success and a shot in the arm for the local economy.

“We’re already getting people from Utah buying lottery tickets,” Mike said. “We don’t go anywhere near the gas stations on Wednesdays or Saturdays before the Power Ball drawings.

“I’ve seen some people in there buying $100 or $200 on scratch tickets alone.”

Dinosaur town officials are considering two different sites for the potential casino. One site is a 155-acre tract located inside city limits that some know as the old Papoulas ranch.

Blakley, who also serves as the town’s water and sewer manager, said the site is perfect because it already has a 12-inch sewer main and an eight-inch water main running through it.

“We ran those lines back in the 1980s when it looked like someone was going to develop the property,” Blakley said. “That deal fell through. The lines are still there, though, and all you’d have to do is run a connector depending on where they want to build the site.”

The property is owned by 6440, LLC out of Cleveland. Smith said the company is willing to donate three to five acres to the Utes for the casino site.

Although Smith hopes to have a facility constructed within the next 12 months, he said the majority of his citizens don’t even know about the proposed project yet.

“We haven’t had a town meeting yet and we’re not going to have one until I know absolutely everything there is to know,” Smith said. “I’m not going before my people to seek their approval until I know where we are and I know where they (the Utes) are.

“But, I promise you, we are taking this very seriously and they are taking this very seriously. They have some savvy business people over there and neither one of us wants to get into an agreement that is going to hurt this town or hurt the tribe.”

For Smith, it all comes down to doing what’s best for Dinosaur.

“I’m representing my little town here,” he said. “I don’t want to put my little town in jeopardy. I won’t. I’ll walk away from this whole thing before I do that.

“Because I live here, I’m going to live here, and the folks in this town have been good to me.”

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Comments

George Robertson 2 years, 11 months ago

I think the casino idea is a good one, but instead of the revenue going to the Ute Indian tribe, it should stay in Dinasaur! The casinos in Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek are certainly NOT "wild and out of control". You already indicate that the infrastructure is largely there and I'm sure there would be investors similar to those in the Colorado gaming towns that would take on building the casino. If you're going to consider gambling to ease your "struggling economy" YOU might as well reap all of the revenue possible from it.

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Colette Erickson 2 years, 11 months ago

If I understand you correctly, nimrod, you believe all the revenue should go to the Town of Dino. Well then, what is the motivation of the Utes to build and operate the casino? Good will towards Dino?

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George Robertson 2 years, 11 months ago

Exactly that ranger! As I stated in my first post "I'm sure there would be investors similar to those in the Colorado gaming towns that would take on building the casino"

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Colette Erickson 2 years, 11 months ago

The town is not donating the land, a privately owned LLC is. Do you two think that people coming to the casino, regardless of who owns it, won't be spending money in DIno on food, fuel, lodging, etc.? Why would ANY corp, LLC, other investor be more motivated to give the town money than the Ute Nation? Why look for another investor (unless a favorable deal cannot be reached), when there is apparently one at least willing to look at the investment already in place? News flash: ALL investors will be looking for a return on their money. What is the objection to the facility being built by the Utes, and to them making money? Surely it is not merely that it is a Native American tribe? These comments are almost beginning to feel racist.

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George Robertson 2 years, 11 months ago

In the interest of maximizing the benefit to the Town of Dinosaur, Moffat County, and Colorado it would be wise to atleast peruse other investors. Your other comment 3canines doesn't even warrant a response!

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Jon Pfeifer 2 years, 11 months ago

It would be useful to me to have an article about what it takes to gain permission to build a state-licensed casino, as opposed to one on tribal lands. That's not something I know very much about and would certainly be a factor to consider. I'm not a fan of casinos in general, but if the people of Dinosaur support it, I don't see any problem with it.

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