“There are some social issues with casinos, but the casino should be treated like any other business trying to compete in an open market. At the end of the day, what they (SGG) are proposing is a new, private business. If we don’t need it, if people don’t want it, then they’ll go out of business.”
— Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner about setting aside her social concerns in favor of allowing the Hayden casino to compete in the open market
Simply uttering the word “casino” in some circles can conjure up images of sin, human degradation and the worst qualities of the general public.
And although the social impacts of the Sleeping Giant Group’s proposal to bring an Indian gaming facility to Hayden still need further discussion, members of the Craig and Moffat County business communities were content to save that debate for another day.
Instead, the talk around town has been focused on increased tourist traffic and economic development opportunities that could spill over the line into Moffat County.
Betsy Nauman-Cook, director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, said Friday she has yet to hear an opinion opposed to the casino from the business community, budding entrepreneurs or local residents.
“Everything I’m hearing in the community is overwhelmingly positive,” said Nauman-Cook. “Everyone seems to be really excited about what the increased traffic could do for tourism, retail sales and hotel stays.”
But there are mixed emotions on the east side of the Yampa Valley.
In a recent Steamboat Today article restaurateurs, hoteliers and retail business owners weighed in on the casino proposal.
Though their opinions varied as widely as their respective businesses, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett voiced concerns about the casino’s potential adverse effects on the Steamboat Springs labor pool.
She added the casino has the potential to absorb workers who commute to Steamboat from Hayden and Craig and potentially force local retailers, hotels and restaurants to pay higher wages to retain and hire employees — the Steamboat Today reported.
Terry Carwile, City of Craig mayor and owner of Downtown Books at 543 Yampa Ave., doesn’t share Barnett’s concern — his business has always been something of a revolving door.
“Employees are kind of a dynamic thing — they come and they go,” Carwile said. “I’ve had three employees move on to bigger and better things this year, and I’ll probably have a few more leave in the not-too-distant future. I don’t operate a business that attracts people for long periods of time, like out at Trapper Mine, for example.”
Carwile, like Nauman-Cook, views a casino in the Yampa Valley as a way of diversifying the region’s attractions.
“From a business perspective I guess you could use the old adage that a rising tide raises all ships,” he said. “I think from the general increase in tourist traffic you would see, by extension, an increase in economic activity, and maybe some of that will spill over this way.”
In regards to tourism, the SGG has said in its community meetings that they don’t believe a casino will attract new visitors to the Yampa Valley specifically to gamble.
They do believe skiers, hunters and fisherman who annually visit the region may consider adding an extra day to their itinerary to play table games, eat at the restaurant or take in a show.
Carwile doesn’t believe that’s an unreasonable expectation.
“When we did a feasibility study for the sports complex we researched the likelihood of people coming out a day early or staying an extra day when attending the Triple Crown,” he said. “I understand that logic and I think it’s certainly a good marketing tool.”
Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner took it a step further saying a casino could also be used to attract new businesses to the area.
“Energy is our base economic driver and we need to support that, but people looking at Craig and Moffat County as a possible location to open a business always ask about quality of life opportunities,” she said. “I think the casino fits into that.”
Danner may have some social concerns about the project, but said her beliefs in free market capitalism trumped any fears of a potential for increased criminal activity.
“There are some social issues with casinos, but the casino should be treated like any other business trying to compete in an open market,” Danner said. “At the end of the day, what they (SGG) are proposing is a new, private business.
“If we don’t need it, if people don’t want it, then they’ll go out of business.”
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.