Debate rages over tribal proposal

Oct 3, 2005 3:42 AM

In Colorado, the debate continued to rage over the proposal to build a tribal casino in Pueblo.

Several public officials have urged caution with the proposal, while others have suggested it should be put to a vote of Colorado citizens.

One of the latter is Senator Wayne Allard, who sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Recently, Allard sent a letter to the panel’s chairman urging him to keep spending bills free of any amendments that would establish an Indian-owned casino in Pueblo.

Allard, a Republican, said the letter was needed to prevent any attempt to get congressional approval for the casino without a vote by Colorado residents.

"My position on this issue remains the same as my approach to a similar proposal last year," Allard said last week. "I do not believe that the state of Colorado would be well served if Congress approves a casino in the state without citizen approval."

The Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma want to establish a 5-acre casino-hotel complex in Pueblo as a settlement to their claim to some 27 million acres of Eastern Colorado as traditional tribal lands.

A year ago, the tribes made a similar proposal, but wanted a 500-acre site near Denver International Airport. At the time, Allard joined with Gov. Bill Owens in calling for a statewide vote on the question.

Board members of the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk, which adjoins the site of the proposed casino complex, have differing feelings about the project.

Members of the authority board and the riverwalk’s nonprofit foundation heard a presentation on the casino project last week from the project’s developer, Steve Hillard of Council Tree Communications.

The foundation board will vote via e-mail in the next few days on a resolution supporting the project, according to the Pueblo Chieftain newswpaper.

While some board members have been unwilling to commit on the proposal, many said they want to preserve the Riverwalk’s family-friendly nature.

HARP Authority Chairman Gus Sandstrom said "I’m closer and closer to being really against this."

Sandstrom said his reasons have changed from worries about crime to what effect gambling will have on Pueblo’s economic and social fabric.

Sandstrom, who was Pueblo’s district attorney for 24 years through 2004, said prosecutors from other gambling towns have said gambling doesn’t seem to bring organized or heavy crime. Instead, there are more drunk-driving arrests, domestic violence episodes and more embezzlements.

Sandstrom said his real problem with the casino is that Colorado’s limited stakes gambling "is designed to take all your money."

With large stakes, players can hit a big pot and break even, he said. With limited stakes, the gambling industry has studied and designed ways to incrementally drain away a person’s money.

Sandstrom said he also has come to doubt that the casino complex will bring much to Pueblo. He doesn’t think small-stakes gamblers will bring their families for shopping or to eat in restaurants, as casino backers have suggested.

"So in the long term, I don’t know that it’s good for our community," he said.

Board member Alan Hamel said he hasn’t made a decision yet, but he feels better about the project after the presentation by casino backers. He said he liked the idea that the casino will be an understated part of the 5-acre complex.

Board member Claudia Robinson said she’s still "a little leery" about the casino.