Routt County officials welcome continued casino conversation

— Despite opposition from the governor, some local officials say casino proponents should push forward if they think a casino would be beneficial to the community.

“I think it should be explored to its fullest because ... it would be an economic boost for Hayden and Routt County,” Hayden Town Council member Bill Hayden said Wednesday.

Steve Hofman, a partner in the Sleeping Giant Group that is proposing the casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport, met with Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia on Tuesday. Garcia told Hofman that Gov. John Hickenlooper does not support an off-reservation casino being built anywhere in Colorado.

“We didn’t have a specific proposal in front of us, but right now, we wanted to reiterate that we weren’t supportive of any off-reservation casinos at this point,” Garcia said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

The lack of support from the governor is a major blow to the project because in addition to federal approvals, Colorado’s governor would have to sign off on the project.

“Times change, and situations change,” Hayden said. “I think it’s appropriate if they think there is some merit to keep plowing ahead.”

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger, who lives in Hayden, said it is up to the Sleeping Giant Group to decide whether they want to move forward.

“I personally wasn’t supportive of it, but I don’t have a problem with having the conversation with the community,” Monger said. “A lot of my neighbors that I talked to are dead set against it. There are some people that think it’s going to be the cat’s meow.”

Monger said he thinks a casino would be a distraction and not an addition at YVRA, and he was skeptical of the economic impact studies that had been paid for by the group. He said he would want to see an independent impact study if the project gained traction.

Monger said he is against expanded gaming anywhere in Colorado, and he agreed with with Lt. Gov. Garcia, who said existing commercial casinos in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City have not met the economic projections.

“I think if you talk to people who live in those communities, some of the economic vitality that was promised has not materialized,” Monger said.

Monger said if the casino turned into a 10- or 15-year project, it may not depend on Hickenlooper, who is up for election in two years.

“If it’s a long-term project, it doesn’t put the kibosh on it,” Monger said.

Hofman said Tuesday that his group would continue moving forward and this fall would begin meeting with Indian tribes, which would have to own the casino.

Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky said that he thinks the Sleeping Giant Group is still in the process of educating the community and that he does not think they should stop that process because of the governor’s position.

“It appears it is a long process that the Sleeping Giant Group is going to go through,” Kounovsky said. “There are many different approvals that they need to get, and this is just one that they need to win over to their side if they are going to push the project forward.”

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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