Dinosaur mayor confident casino project will move forward | CraigDailyPress.com

Dinosaur mayor confident casino project will move forward

Joe Moylan

Twenty-four hours after a group in Routt County announced a casino project is in the works for Hayden, officials on the far west end of Moffat County said things are progressing smoothly with their casino project as well.

"I can tell you from the people I have spoke to at the tribe, with (Gaming Market Advisors) and the town (of Dinosaur), all systems are go," Dinosaur Mayor L.D. Smith said. "That's about as much as I can say because (the Ute Indian Tribe) just received the feasibility study and we're kind of in limbo until the tribe looks at it and makes a decision."

Dinosaur officials began serious discussions with the Utes of the Uintah and Ouray reservation, headquartered in Fort Duchesne, Utah, in October 2011.

Preliminary plans proposed a gaming facility with a restaurant and hotel. Additional developments, including a recreational vehicle park and municipal golf course, have been tabled until the initial project gets underway, Smith said.

Officials from the town and tribe hired Gaming Market Advisors, a survey company specializing in casino projects with offices in Las Vegas and Denver, to conduct the feasibility study.

GMA representatives were in Dinosaur last week. They completed the study March 16 and turned results over to the Utes, Smith said. Dinosaur officials have not seen the results yet.

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"It's in their hands right now," Smith said. "But, it's promising when you have people out here getting things done."

Smith said he would present the project to Gov. John Hickenlooper for review shortly after the Utes approve the study.

But, Steve Hofman, one of the partners involved with the Hayden casino project, said his understanding of the approval process requires a lot more time, investment and a significant amount of paperwork to be filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs before an application for approval can be sent to the governor.

Hofman talked about the Hayden casino project requiring three distinct phases.

The first phase includes putting the land proposed for development into federal trust and commissioning independent companies to conduct countless studies covering everything from transportation and environmental impacts to increased needs for public safety.

There is also a significant need to contract attorneys, industry experts and liaisons to guide partners through the application process before BIA public review.

All told, Hofman estimates phase one of the Hayden project would take 18 to 24 months and require an investment of a few million dollars before the plan could be sent to Hickenlooper.

When asked if officials in Dinosaur and the Ute Indian Tribe had taken these steps or acquired investors to finance a similar first phase of the project, Smith responded, "We don't have to fund it."

There are two key differences between the casino projects, according to Smith's understanding of the plans in Hayden. The first being the proposed site in Dinosaur is on private land.

"We don't have to go through the Department of the Interior because it is a single, private landowner who is donating the land to the Indians," Smith said. "It hasn't got a damn thing to do with the Department of the Interior, it doesn't have a damn thing to do with the State of Colorado.

"They're trying to donate some public grounds, which is why they are running into problems over there because then you have to go through everybody and that whole rigamorale."

In addition, Smith said town and tribal attorneys used the Ute's ancestral ties to the region as leverage for the project.

"There are only two states that don't allow gambling — Utah and Hawaii," Smith said. "The Ute Tribe is indigenous to Dinosaur, that's their country, they owned it.

"We, the American people, pushed them into Utah years ago."

Although Smith contends the U.S. government forced the tribe into Utah, he said factions of the tribe were allowed to remain on ancestral lands in southwestern Colorado.

"That part of the tribe has casinos down there — our part doesn't — so our lawyers used that as a bargaining tool," Smith said. "The United States government discriminated against the Ute Tribe, part of it, by pushing them into a state where gambling isn't allowed and deprived them of the revenue they could attain if it were allowed there."

Had the tribe and the Town of Dinosaur proposed a site any farther east, Smith said they would have to go through the BIA approval process as well.

The Utes have already approved the proposed site and the town was successful in acquiring a Bureau of Land Management right-of-way to bring a natural gas pipeline to the property, Smith said.

Although construction is not expected to begin until next year, Smith said the Utes will stake the ground as soon as they approve the feasibility study.

"When those stakes are in the ground, we'll meet the governor, get his blessing and we're done," Smith said. "I don't think there will be any problem with that at all. It would be almost impossible for him to turn it down."

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“When those stakes are in the ground, we’ll meet the governor, get his blessing, and we’re done. I don’t think there will be any problem with that at all. It would be almost impossible for him to turn it down.”

— L.D. Smith, Town of Dinosaur mayor, on a proposed casino project for the small town 90 miles west of Craig

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