Earlier this week, lobbyists for the Colorado Gaming Association, the casino industry’s trade association, met with several elected officials in El Paso County to discuss the possibility of a Fountain-area casino.
While Lois Rice of the CGA acknowledged the contacts, she also immediately dismissed them.
“As far as we know for sure, (the reports) may just be rumors,” she said. “We’d oppose any such casino, and we don’t think that it would be welcomed by people in that area.”
But Rice’s second point appears to be accurate – at least according to Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells.
“When there was some talk about having a casino in Fountain early this year, we (the City Council) discussed it informally and the consensus was that we weren’t interested in anything like that,” she said.
And Ron Kamerzell, head of the Colorado Division of Gaming, said he wasn’t aware of any proposal to build an Indian casino near Fountain.
“That’s news to me,” he said, “I haven’t heard anything about it.”
However, word of the possibility of an Indian casino in El Paso County has reached as far as Cripple Creek.
“I’ve heard rumors about it, but I don’t know who’s involved,” said Marc Murphy, the co-owner of Bronco Billy’s casino in Cripple Creek. “We would absolutely be very concerned. A casino there could have a big impact on our business.”
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economist Tom Zwirlein agreed with Murphy.
“It would have at least a moderate economic impact on the Fountain area,” Zwirlein said, “and it would definitely have an impact on Cripple Creek, especially during the winter.”
Another impact, Zwirlein said, might be on the Ramblin’ Express, a bus service that transports predominantly elderly gamblers from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek.
“It would certainly affect them adversely,” he said. “They might even have to shut down.”
Jim Cassidy, the chief financial officer of the Colorado Springs convention and visitors bureau, said that such a business would raise many questions.
“We’re always advocates of new visitor generators,” he said, “but would a casino there draw new visitors, or just move (the same people) around? The casinos in Cripple Creek have been great supporters and partners – you’d want to know how it (an Indian casino) would be taxed, how it would support the community. I really don’t know enough to say yea or nay.”
Lisa Cochrun, economic development director Fountain, has heard the rumors too, but thinks that they might be just that.
“It sounds to me like a rumor that has a life of its own,” she said. “We keep hearing about it, but nothing ever surfaces. ”
Indian casinos located near major metropolitan areas have, according to economic studies, been major revenue generators.
Writing in the Journal of Gambling Studies several years after the establishment of a casino on the Fort McDowell reservation near Phoenix, Gary Anders, a professor at the school of management of Arizona State University said that, “It is estimated that the casino is responsible for 2,483 new jobs, and an increase of approximately $80.35 million in regional output.”
Unlike privately owned casinos, which in Colorado can only be located in the mountain towns of Cripple Creek, Blackhawk, and Central City, American Indian casinos can be located on tribal lands or, subject to federal law, on off-reservation sites.
Two Indian casinos operate in southwestern Colorado. The Southern Ute Tribe owns the Sky Ute casino resort in Ignacio, and the Weenimuche Utes operate the Ute Mountain casino in Tawaoc.
Both casinos are on tribal lands, meaning that the state had little power to prevent them from opening.
The laws which govern tribal casinos are straight-forward. Casino gambling must be permitted in the state in which the tribe is located, the tribe and the state must negotiate a regulatory agreement or the tribe can ask the secretary of the interior for direct regulatory approval, and the tribe must adopt a “tribal gaming ordinance.”
During 1995, the state of Colorado and the two Ute tribes entered into a regulatory agreement, or compact, that allowed the Utes to build casinos on tribal lands. It is not clear whether the compact prevents the Southern Utes, whose ancestors lived in the Pikes Peak region, from attempting to launch an off-reservation casino.
But, as Irving Howbert’s book “Indians of the Pikes Peak Region” notes, many Native American tribes lived in or periodically migrated through the area, including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche.
The presence of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes throughout the Pikes Peak region has been particularly well documented.
Historic photographs, journals, paintings and regional histories provide abundant and detailed evidence of their presence in the Fountain Valley.
Of the 568 Indian tribes recognized by the federal government, 220 offer some kind of gaming experience. Indian gaming establishments range from bingo parlors to the two largest casinos in the United States, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, both in central Connecticut.
Indian tribes may build on-reservation casinos. But suppose that the tribe was expelled without subsequent compensation from its historic lands, or simply drifted away?
Such situations are common, and often result in protracted legislation. The tribe may be small, its members dispersed and its historic ties to the land undocumented. Such tribes, which often seek to build casinos in economically desirable locations, regardless of the opposition of residents, have been accused of “reservation shopping.”
During 2004, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma laid claim to 27 million acres of “ancestral land” in Colorado, which they said had been unfairly seized by the government during the 19th century. The tribes offered to drop the claim in return for 100 acres near DIA, upon which they proposed to build a $300 million casino/hotel resort. The claim was ultimately rejected by the courts, citing a $15 million Indian Claims Commission judgment that the tribes had accepted during the 1960s.
Last year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued guidelines that tribes must follow to assert off-reservation claims to federally owned land. Tribes must document such ties through treaties of record, or through the presence of “villages, burial grounds, occupancy, or subsistence use in the vicinity of the land.”
Rice conceded that the Ute presence in the Fountain Valley is indisputable.
“You know,” she said, “a few years ago a team from CSU found a Ute burial ground right down there near Fountain, so they were definitely there.”