Dinosaur Town Council, Ute tribe exploring casino project agreement
The Dinosaur Town Council, Moffat County Commission and a representative from the Ute tribe explored an agreement Tuesday concerning a potential casino in the small town 90 miles west of Craig.
Informal conversations between Dinosaur Mayor L.D. Smith and members of the Ute Tribal Council have been going on for some time, said Ed Sands, Dinosaur town attorney.
A potential gaming facility is one of many options Dinosaur officials have examined to boost the local economy.
“The economy in Dinosaur is not good,” Sands said. “And, council members have been looking for ways to generate a healthier economy.”
The town council’s meeting Tuesday was an attempt to gauge community interest and to review a potential agreement with the Utes, Sands said.
So far, the council appears to be in favor of entering into an agreement with the Utes and conducting a study to see if bringing a casino to the area is feasible.
To proceed, a predevelopment agreement between the town and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation must first be finalized and signed by representatives of both parties.
According to a draft of the agreement, the Utes and the town council would then contract a third party to conduct a feasibility study.
The feasibility study is estimated to cost $10,000, Sands said, which would be split equally between the Utes and the town.
The parties are looking at two companies in Denver that specialize in conducting studies for casinos, officials said.
Sands said the size and cost of a gaming facility depends on the feasibility study. He said the town council and the Utes are interested in developing a destination resort that would include a casino, a lodge or hotel, an RV park and a golf course.
“With the rafting industry and a national monument in the area, it would be nice to build a destination resort to attract visitors there for a few days,” Sands said.
Also included in the draft agreement is an option for the Utes to purchase land. According to federal Native American gaming regulations, a casino must be built on tribal land.
Before the Utes can purchase land, which would be considered a federal land trust, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and the governor’s office would have to approve the acquisition.
As part of a land trust application, the BIA will consider the tribe’s need for the land, purpose of the land, impact of removing land from state and local tax rolls, jurisdictional problems in terms of land use, compliance with federal environmental laws, a business plan, economic benefits, state and local comments on the acquisition’s potential impacts and the proximity of the purchased land to the Ute reservation, Sands said.
The Utes, headquartered in Fort Duchesne, Utah, are interested in a potential project with the town for various reasons, Sands said.
Utah is one of two states in the country that prohibits gambling. Although Native American tribes are viewed by the federal government as sovereign, self-governing entities, it defers to states regarding gambling laws.
Dinosaur is also an attractive location because Ute reservation land crosses the Utah/Colorado border and ends approximately two miles west of Dinosaur.
“Its close proximity to reservation land makes the BIA’s approval of the land trust more likely,” Sands said.
Because the casino will legally be located on tribal land if the BIA approves the project, Moffat County and Dinosaur will not be allowed to collect tax revenue.
Sands said the Utes are willing to enter into an operating agreement with Dinosaur to provide police services and perform exterior maintenance, which Dinosaur will be compensated for in lieu of taxes, Sands said.
The Utes also want to enter into a 50/50 partnership with the town, the attorney said.
“That would allow us to capitalize on 50 percent of the revenue,” Sands said. “But, that also means we would have to come up with 50 percent of the financing.”
Dinosaur does not have the funds to finance a resort, but Sands said the town could issue revenue bonds to meet its share of the cost.
Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner said the commission is in favor of Dinosaur considering opportunities to improve its economy. However, she’s not ready to endorse the casino resort project.
“We support the Town of Dinosaur looking for ways to sustain its community,” Danner said. “I don’t have enough information to give my support to that particular project yet.”
Although the county would have few legal avenues to pursue if it wanted to block a gaming facility in Dinosaur, Sands said it is still important to get the commission’s support.
“We certainly want them on board,” Sands said. “They could not stop this from happening legally, but they could stop it politically by putting pressure on the governor, who ultimately has the final say.”