Casino group anticipates moving forward with Hayden project
September 20, 2012
Steamboat Springs — With the message now clear that Gov. John Hickenlooper does not support off-reservation casinos in Colorado, Sleeping Giant Group partners plan to meet next week to decide how to proceed with their vision for a casino near Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
"It sharpens the question for potential Indian tribal partners," Sleeping Giant’s Steve Hofman said. "What the governor said was as much a message to them as it was to us."
On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said that even though no specific proposals have been submitted to Hickenlooper, it was in everyone's best interest to know the governor's stance on off-reservation casinos like the one proposed in Hayden.
"We thought it would be fair to those tribes and those business interests that were talking about it … if we give them some advance notification of where we are so they could keep that in mind as they are investing money into studies and finding partners and looking at locations," Garcia said.
With that in mind, the next step for the Sleeping Giant Group is to talk to tribes that might be interested in owning and operating the casino. Hofman said Thursday that he thinks Sleeping Giant Group will move forward with that part of the process.
"I would be surprised if the partnership felt differently," Hofman said.
Hofman said the potential Indian tribal partners would have a decision to make given the governor's opposition.
"Do they want to sit there and say, 'We're happy where we are at … or you know what, we're not happy with that,'" he said.
If an off-reservation proposal made it through the federal approval process, Colorado's governor would have a year to decide whether to approve it. The Sleeping Giant Group envisioned that deciding governor would be Hickenlooper, and Hofman said his disapproval has "accelerated a decision point in the process that was going to be realized anyway."
If Hickenlooper seeks re-election in 2014, it's possible that for the next six years any off-reservation casino approval would have to go through him.
"He's a popular governor," Hofman acknowledged Thursday.
If the Sleeping Giant Group proceeds with its plans, it would do so knowing that changing Hickenlooper’s stance on off-reservation casinos might be the only avenue to project approval.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said Hickenlooper’s administration opposes additional casinos because existing Colorado gaming businesses have fallen short of meeting economic projections, and "we're not sure that we want to increase competition for existing businesses."
"What we were saying to Steve is it would take a lot of very, very good evidence for us to begin to support any possibility of off-reservation casinos right now in Colorado, and we just haven’t seen it," Garcia said.
Hofman particularly has been critical of the governor's stance because he said Garcia knew nothing about the proposed project in Routt County before voicing opposition to it.
"The message from Denver is that when it comes to Northwest Colorado, Denver knows best," Hofman said.
If the project is going to move forward, Hofman said, it is going to take more than the will of his group and a tribal partner.
"We happen to be the guys executing it, but it's only going to happen if it's a community project," Hofman said. "I think people in the community need to step up.”
Community sentiment on the project has been mixed, with the casino proposal seeming to attract more support in Hayden and Craig than it has in Steamboat Springs. A group calling itself No Casino recently formed to oppose the casino project.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com