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Dinosaur officials: Casino could help revitalize economy

Mayor L.D. Smith, left, and town councilman Toby Cortez pose at the B & B Restaurant in Dinosaur. In an effort to boost the town's economy, officials are considering a partnership with the Ute Indian Tribe to bring a gaming facility to Dinosaur. Joe Moylan

L.D. Smith, Dinosaur town mayor, borrows a line from a famous movie when asked about the potential for a casino resort development in his small town.

"If you build it, they will come," Smith said, echoing "Field of Dreams." "Without a doubt."

Sitting in the B & B Restaurant on the east end of town, Smith backs the casino idea because he said it would help the town and its residents, people who deserve good fortune.

"I got into a motorcycle accident a few years back and broke both my arms," Smith said. "I had people coming over cooking me dinner. In all the years I lived in Junction, that never happened once.

"When things go bad, the people of this town rally and support one another."

Smith said Dinosaur's struggling economy turned after the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of people don't know this, but when we put a (drilling) moratorium on the Gulf, we put a moratorium on the entire country," Smith said. "Salazar shut it all down.

"Within two weeks, 32,000 jobs in Alaska were gone, 72,000 in the Rocky Mountains.

"That hurt the natural gas and oil industries in this area, which we depend on."

Smith also said reduced tax revenue over the years has hurt Dinosaur. He estimates that of the town's 330 residents, approximately one-third are retired, living off Social Security or some other pension and therefore not contributing greatly to the town tax base.

"Which is fine," Smith said. "These people have worked hard their whole lives and they've earned the right, but that doesn't change the fact we have less and less coming into our coffers each year."

Rather than raise taxes and hike water and sewage bills, Smith and town officials began exploring options.

"I can raise taxes tomorrow if I want to," Smith said. "But, I don't. I don't believe in raising taxes on anyone, but we've reached a point where we can't afford basic services.

"If we don't make a serious move forward, raising taxes will be the only option, and that will only be good enough to get us by."

Town councilman Richard Blakley agrees.

"If you're not moving forward, you're sure not standing still," Blakley said. "We've been in reverse for a long time."

Smith said talks with the Ute tribe about the casino project have been ongoing for some time, but they kicked into gear last spring.

Since then, Smith has been doing his homework, conducting his own studies and working on a potential site. He anticipates any resident opposition to the casino will be based largely on unwanted population growth and crime.

"The casino down in Ignacio is the best comparison to us I could make," Smith said. "When they started their casino project, they had a population of about 500. Today it's 645, which isn't that bad."

Councilman Toby Cortez said the public's perception of casino-related crime is misguided because it is largely based on television and Las Vegas rumors.

"You have to remember that this is an Indian casino," Cortez said. "It's not Vegas or even the state mandated casinos in Colorado. By law, you cannot drink on the gaming floor. You can get a beer in the bar or the restaurant, but it's not wild and out of control like a lot people think."

Smith added that the facility in Ignacio is a beautiful place and it succeeds by being a family destination with as many activities for kids as adults.

He said the goal is to create a similar family-friendly environment in Dinosaur.

Local business owners Tammy and Mike Warden are excited about the possibility of a casino in town.

"We think it's a great idea," Tammy said. "We've been to the casino in Cortez and it's the nicest hotel and restaurant. There's no riff raff."

The Wardens own Hi-Vu Motel and depend on tourism for their business, but said they're not worried about competing with a casino hotel.

"We turn so many people away already," Tammy said. "We'd much rather send them down the road instead of sending them to Rangely or Vernal."

The Wardens think a casino would be an immediate success and a shot in the arm for the local economy.

"We're already getting people from Utah buying lottery tickets," Mike said. "We don't go anywhere near the gas stations on Wednesdays or Saturdays before the Power Ball drawings.

"I've seen some people in there buying $100 or $200 on scratch tickets alone."

Dinosaur town officials are considering two different sites for the potential casino. One site is a 155-acre tract located inside city limits that some know as the old Papoulas ranch.

Blakley, who also serves as the town's water and sewer manager, said the site is perfect because it already has a 12-inch sewer main and an eight-inch water main running through it.

"We ran those lines back in the 1980s when it looked like someone was going to develop the property," Blakley said. "That deal fell through. The lines are still there, though, and all you'd have to do is run a connector depending on where they want to build the site."

The property is owned by 6440, LLC out of Cleveland. Smith said the company is willing to donate three to five acres to the Utes for the casino site.

Although Smith hopes to have a facility constructed within the next 12 months, he said the majority of his citizens don't even know about the proposed project yet.

"We haven't had a town meeting yet and we're not going to have one until I know absolutely everything there is to know," Smith said. "I'm not going before my people to seek their approval until I know where we are and I know where they (the Utes) are.

"But, I promise you, we are taking this very seriously and they are taking this very seriously. They have some savvy business people over there and neither one of us wants to get into an agreement that is going to hurt this town or hurt the tribe."

For Smith, it all comes down to doing what's best for Dinosaur.

"I'm representing my little town here," he said. "I don't want to put my little town in jeopardy. I won't. I'll walk away from this whole thing before I do that.

"Because I live here, I'm going to live here, and the folks in this town have been good to me."

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