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Craig Craig residents on Thursday night echoed the sentiments of some Hayden residents who have said that they need to diversify their economy and that a casino could help them do that.
“Whether this is right or wrong, we have the opportunity,” Craig City Council member Don Jones said. “We always ask for diversification, but we rely on oil and gas; we rely on farming. Whether this is right or wrong, we have the opportunity.”
Jones was one of about 50 people who attended a community meeting hosted by the Sleeping Giant Group on Thursday night at the Moffat County Fairgrounds. The group has proposed building an off-reservation, Indian-owned casino near the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden.
The meeting in Craig was the third and final summer community meeting being hosted by the Sleeping Giant Group. The other two meetings were held in Steamboat and Hayden after the group revealed in March that it wanted to build a casino. The Sleeping Giant Group partners at the Craig meeting were Steamboat Springs residents Steve Hofman and Johnny Spillane, Hayden developer Stefanus Nijsten and Hayden resident Dave Marin. Nijsten is chairman of the Hayden Economic Development Council, and Marin is president of the Hayden Chamber of Commerce.
Sleeping Giant Group members spent the first part of the meeting explaining their vision for the project and its potential to create nearly 1,000 full-time jobs in the Yampa Valley and increase household incomes by $34.5 million, according an economic impact study completed by Yampa Valley Data Partners.
Hofman also discussed results from a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates that surveyed 201 community leaders in places with casino gaming. Hofman said relatively few respondents voiced concerns with increased poverty and bankruptcies (9 percent), crime (6 percent), traffic (5 percent) or other social and family problems (4 percent).
“That is not to dismiss that these are not real issues; they are, but it says that if communities are thoughtful about these questions, they can know how to manage them,” Hofman said.
After the presentation, the group opened it up to questions.
One resident wanted to know what role a proposed Indian-owned casino in Dinosaur would play in the building of a casino in Hayden. Hofman said there was only a market for one casino in the region, but he did not think the Dinosaur project had the financial means to go through the long regulatory process, which he said can cost millions.
“We’re just not sure that it’s a viable project,” Hofman said.
While most people attending the meeting asked questions, Steamboat Springs resident Mary Littman offered a strong opinion against the project and created the night’s one instance of drama.
“I find that the Sleeping Giant Group is trying to lure you all with the expectation of great reimbursement,” said Littman, who also raised concerns about problem gambling.
Littman told the crowd that communities within 50 miles of a casino have at least double the problem gamblers, which Hofman refuted.
“Don’t tell me it’s not true,” Littman said, to which Hofman responded, “It’s not true.”
“He’s a liar,” Littman said.
“The reality is problem gambling is a reality in America,” Hofman said. “At the end of the day, the studies have shown that bringing a casino into an area has not changed the data on problem gambling.”
The loudest applause of the night came after Craig resident Jackie Pomeroy, who has lived in the Yampa Valley all her life, spoke about how the casino would bring visitors to the area.
“Use your brains, get people in here,” she said. “This is what this valley needs.”
Now that the initial community meetings have been completed, Hofman said Sleeping Giant Group is in the process of contacting groups that would help it approach Indian tribes about owning the casino. Hofman said the selected tribe then would start negotiating agreements with the affected communities. Such agreements would outline fees that are paid to government bodies in lieu of taxes. The tribe then applies with the U.S. Department of the Interior to have the casino land put into a trust, a process that can take a year or longer. If the department decides to put the land into trust, the governor of Colorado then would have a year to decide whether to allow the casino.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com