Utah tribe, Colorado town will gamble on new casino

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 8:23 p.m. MDT

The new Shoshone-Bannock Hotel in Fort Hall, Idaho, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

DINOSAUR, Colo. — Officials with the Ute Indian Tribe are moving ahead with plans to build a major development just outside of this small town that would include a casino, a hotel, two restaurants and other amenities.

The project, which the tribe has been discussing with various western Colorado communities since the late '80s, would be the Utes' first foray into the gaming industry. It would also help the almost nonexistent economy in Dinosaur, according to Richard. A Blakley, the town's acting mayor.

"We don't have a lot of money," Blakley said. "We run on about a $120,000-a-year budget."

The town has no natural gas service, he said, noting that its 350 residents use propane to heat their homes. Dinosaur also relies on the Moffatt County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement services and pays the nearby town of Rangley thousands of dollars a year for ambulance coverage, Blakley said.

"Our school district, they shut down our school. So we're running an online school now," he said.

That's why the idea of building a casino near the town is so appealing.

"It would be nice to have a budget to work with and some jobs," Blakley said. "When our kids graduate, usually you hand them a bus ticket so they can go somewhere to go to work."

The town and the tribe recently split the cost of a feasibility study for the proposed casino. Jeremy Patterson, an attorney for the tribe, said the study showed the area could support a "midsize casino" with roughly 750 slot machines.

The development would also include a 150-seat restaurant, a smaller restaurant, a hotel and a gift shop, Patterson said.

"We're confident we'll be able to build the project," he said. "It's a win-win for the tribe and for the town."

Native American gaming can be lucrative for states and for tribes.

In 2010, Idaho's five tribes released an economic development report that showed their casinos generated $137 million in sales, employed nearly 2,000 people, paid them $49 million in wages and paid $4.3 million in taxes.

The Ute Tribe still has several hurdles to clear before its casino starts raking in that kind of coin.

First, the tribe must acquire land in Colorado that abuts the boundaries of its reservation. Then, it must gain approval from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the land "taken into trust" as part of the reservation, Patterson said.

Finally, it must ink a gaming compact with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration that sets the amount of revenue the state will receive from the casino's operation. 

Earlier this week, the Hickenlooper administration made it known that the Democrat does not support off-reservation gaming, causing some in Dinosaur to fear that the project with the Ute Tribe was off. 

But Patterson said the governor's approval is not required for the tribe to proceed with its plan, except when it comes to the gaming compact.

"On-reservation gaming is a different situation," he said, noting that the tribe would like to open its casino sometime within the next two years.

In addition to clearing the bureaucratic hurdles, the project may have to deal with some local opposition as well. At least one Dinosaur resident has nailed a sign to a tree in his front yard proclaiming, "No Casino in Dinosaur."

"I know it will dump money into the casino, but is it going to dump any money into the town? Are the (Utes) going to share any of that money with the town?" asked Robert Ormsby, who lives near the home with the sign and also opposes the project.

"It will just bring more riffraff and problems than what we got in town," he said, adding that he plans to move out of Dinosaur if the casino moves in.

Blakley said he's heard the complaints and the concerns. He knows the town's religious leaders are opposed to the project as well.

"We already have alcohol problems, that kind of stuff here," the acting mayor said. "Maybe this (casino project) could help, because if you have your own police force, it would help maybe smash (the problems) down."

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com, Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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