Casino Stalker | Land Acquisitions

Ute Tribe confronts new obstacle to proposed casino in Colorado




The Ute Tribe is interested in a casino near the town of Dinosaur, Colorado. Photo: J. Stephen Conn

The new leader of the Department of the Interior has made it clear that he won't allow the sale or transfer of public land, a stance that endangers a casino being proposed by the Ute Tribe.

The tribe wants to buy 2,453 acres in Colorado from the Bureau of Land Management. The property lies along the Utah state line and along the border of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.

"The tribe proposes to purchase these lands from the BLM in order to expand its reservation and pursue economic development," Chairman Shaun Chapoose said in a December 20, 2016, letter to the agency.

But Secretary Ryan Zinke, who took control of Interior last month, has repeatedly opposed such transactions. Just last week, he went so far as to stop the proposed transfer of federal land to a tribe in Montana, his home state, even though the property lies within the tribe's reservation.

“I have said I will not sell or transfer public land. I remain steadfast in that commitment," Zinke said in pulling back plans to return the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.


The Ute Tribe is seeking to purchase federal property along the border of its reservation in Utah as part of a plan to develop a casino near the town of Dinosaur in Colorado. Source: Ute Tribe letter to Bureau of Land Management

The Ute Tribe wants the BLM property in order to build a casino near the town of Dinosaur in Colorado. The tribe believes the acquisition will make the gaming site contiguous to the reservation, eliminating the need to follow the cumbersome the two-part determination provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

It typically takes tribes about a decade to complete both steps of the process so the proposed transfer could speed up plans considerably.

Officials in Dinosaur support the casino but it has drawn opposition elsewhere in the area. One mayor in the town of Rangely was adamant about keeping the Utes out of Colorado, where they lived before being forced into present-day Utah.

“We don’t want to see Northern Utes having a seat at the table in Colorado,” Mayor Joseph Nielsen said at a public meeting last month, The Rio Blanco Herald Times reports.

A resident called the mayor's comments "racist" at a subsequent meeting, the paper said.

Read More on the Story:
Rangely Town Council hears support for casino (The Rio Blanco Herald Times 4/16)
Dinosaur mayor seeks letter of ‘no objection’ from Rangely council on casino proposal (The Rio Blanco Herald Times 3/30)

Related Stories:
Ute Tribe sees local support for off-reservation casino in Colorado (January 27, 2017)