State split over tribal casino plan

Aug 29, 2005 11:23 PM

The state of Colorado has split into factions over a tribe’s proposal to build a casino in Pueblo.

The latest flap in the controversy erupted when members of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma proposed building a $100 million casino and hotel on land that would have to be converted to reservation status by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The land in question is near the historic Arkansas Riverwalk in Pueblo.

The proposal is the second from the tribe, which is embroiled in a dispute with the state over 27 million acres of land that it says was taken from them in the 1860s when they were forcibly removed from what is now Colorado.

The tribe’s first proposal was for a hotel-casino near the Denver airport. Officials of the tribe said they would drop their claim to the 27 million acres if they are allowed to build their casino.

Colorado Governor Bill Owens vehemently opposed the first casino proposal, and last week went on record against the second.

Owens told the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper that the city should reject the proposal and warned that granting reservation status to city land would exempt the casino from some state and federal laws.

"What you’re doing is setting up an independent nation in the middle of Pueblo," Owens said.

Owens added the city should seek other sources of revenue.

"I think Pueblo could do better than jumping at this chance," Owens said. "Gambling isn’t just the bright lights of Las Vegas; there is a seedier underside to it."

Owens said any expansion of gaming in Colorado should be approved in a statewide vote.

Pueblo County officials reacted hotly to the governor’s comments and vowed to proceed with a public hearing this week on the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes’ proposal.

"It bothers me that the governor is telling us we should vote on Referendums C and D, but we shouldn’t have a casino that would raise ”¦ revenues for the state," said County Commissioner Loretta Kennedy.

The Referendums C and D would allow the state to keep revenue in excess Taxpayers Bill of Rights limits for five years, in order to provide extra funds for state highways and higher education.

"Up north, they’re always after our water and our help, but as soon as we ask for help they slap us in the face," Kennedy said. "I have a huge problem with their jumping to conclusions without even asking us what we think."

In response to Owens’ insistence that any expansion of gaming must be put to a statewide vote, Commissioner Matt Peulen said, "We already know how that would turn out. Every statewide vote since Cripple Creek and Black Hawk has been voted down. I think these issues should be decided by a vote in the county involved, since the counties have to pay for all the unfounded mandates passed down from the Legislature."

Peulen added that he objected to Owens’ comment that there’s a "seedier" side to gambling. "Did he think that about those other casinos?" Peulen said. "But as soon as Pueblo is mentioned, there’s a seedy underground."

The Pueblo County Commission meets this week, but commissioners said they would not vote on the issue before the public has a chance to comment.

The Pueblo City Council was scheduled to hold a work session on Monday to discuss the casino proposal.