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Big economic impact for Mtn. Home casino predicted, but result of Sho-Ban vote unclear

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FORT HALL – The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe is continuing to pursue a large-scale casino on a parcel of land in Elmore County, but few details are publicly available about the tribe’s referendum vote on the project and its possible timeline for completion. 

The tribe held a vote on September 23rd asking enrolled tribal members to weigh in on the proposal to build a fourth casino for the tribe to operate on a 157-acre property near Interstate 84 just outside Mountain Home City limits. This would be the tribe’s first casino off of tribal lands and is proposed to include a casino with 2,000 electronic gaming machines, a 250-room hotel, six restaurants, a 15,000-square-foot event center, an 8-lane bowling alley, two movie theaters, and an arcade. It also includes a horse racing track with a grandstand.

This is one of two casino proposals being floated for the interchange near Interstate 84. The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe, which is based on the Duck Valley reservation on the border between Idaho and Nevada, has also submitted a letter of intent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop its own casino on a piece of land nearby. Records obtained by BoiseDev under the Idaho Public Records Act show the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe has sent materials about their proposal to the office of Idaho Gov. Brad Little, but it does not appear they have purchased any land to develop yet and are still in the planning process. 

A rendering of the proposed casino in Mountain Home under consideration by the Shoshone-Bannock tribe. Courtesy of JCJ Architecture

The possibility of the casino has been a topic of discussion for months and months on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation in Fort Hall. News stories from the tribe’s newspaper, Sho-Ban News, says the tribe wants the new casino to help pay to upgrade aging infrastructure and keep up with the community’s needs. But, several tribal members interviewed by BoiseDev expressed opposition to the plan because of the distance from the reservation, the Shoshone-Paiute’s proposal and the abundant land on the reservation itself the tribe could develop instead.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe plans to host several open houses about the project in Elmore County and Mountain Home later this year, but dates, times and locations have not yet been finalized. 

What happened with the Shoshone-Bannock referendum?

The tribe held a referendum vote asking enrolled members to weigh in on the idea on September 23rd, asking voters to say “yes” or “no” if they approved of the project to determine if it should go forward. A Sho-Ban News story recounting a meeting from August 30th where tribal members debated the project said work on the casino was halted until ballots were cast. 

However, this election is not as straightforward as a typical election. According to the text of the resolution for the referendum obtained by BoiseDev, 30% of the eligible voters needed to turn out for the election in order for the results to be “conclusive and binding.” To meet this threshold, the Tribe says 797 votes were required, but only 601 were cast. 

A post on the tribe’s website said this means the project will now move ahead, but it did not say if the ballots were counted and what the tally for either “yes” or “no” was. 

“Since the number of votes did not meet the 30%, the vote dies, and therefore the proposed economic project in Mountain Home will continue,” the webpage said

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Business Center, where the Fort Hall Business Council holds its meetings. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Shoshone-Bannock Tribal spokesperson Randy’L Teton declined to elaborate exactly how the referendum vote worked, saying it was an “internal tribal matter” not meant to be released to the media. She also encouraged any tribal members to reach out to her with questions about the project instead of talking to BoiseDev or other media outlets. 

“I don’t feel like the mass public needs to understand we have these types of processes,” she said.”As a sovereign nation, we deal with these things. The focus should be that the process is moving forward.”

A story by Sho-Ban News, which is undated, includes comments from Fort Hall Business Council Chairman Nathan Small about the referendum vote. According to the article, he noted that in past referendums where the threshold was not reached, ballots were not tallied. Calls from BoiseDev to the Fort Hall Business Council office to obtain meeting minutes of a recent meeting discussing the referendum vote were not returned. 

“More than likely, we are going to continue to move forward with the project in Mountain Home because had they met the threshold and had they been able to count the ballots that they didn’t want it that would have been the mandate,” Chairman Small said, in the Sho-Ban News article. “Because of the way things worked out, we will probably start moving forward. Right now, we’ve been working on getting the land into trust out there.” 

Economic impact study forecasts $226 million annual profit

Teton said not to expect crews to start building the casino in Mountain Home any time soon. 

“We’re working diligently on our end to try and get these things moving,” she said. “This is not going to be a project that is going to pop up by the end of the year or even next year. We have a long checklist (for the land-in-trust application), and we’re going through it.”

The Sho-Ban News story reported Small said it was not a “100% guarantee” the project will be approved. He also nodded to an economic feasibility study for the project conducted for the tribe by Atlanta-based consulting firm The Innovation Group, which specializes in entertainment and hospitality projects. 

A draft copy of the study obtained by BoiseDev estimates the project would add $187.2 million into the state and local economy every year. It estimates the project would create roughly 1,010 jobs at the casino complex itself, plus support another 204 indirectly. The Innovation Group estimates the project could net the tribe $226 million in revenue each year starting in 2026, its proposed second year of operations, the draft report says. 

Fort Hall Business Council Chairman Nathan Small. Courtesy of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe

The study also estimates $1.6 million in new tax revenue for local governments, $2.3 million to the state of Idaho, and another $3.1 million to the federal government. It estimates during construction alone, the project would contribute $4.4 million, $8.1 million, and $21.5 million to local, state and federal governments, respectively.

This draft report estimates 80% of the jobs at the casino would be filled by current residents of Mountain Home, with the rest coming in from out of town, either to move to Elmore County or commuting in from elsewhere. 

The Innovation Group said the added needs for services due to the casino would be manageable with existing infrastructure, and revenue from the project would cover the costs to the City of Mountain Home. 

“Research in other jurisdictions show that impacts to local communities are manageable and are typically offset by the new local tax dollars generated by the development. Based on casino evaluations performed by Purdue University and other research institutions on behalf of the Indian Gaming Commission, statewide average actual costs borne by host communities are approximately 0.3% of gaming revenues.”

Tribe looking for new revenue stream

Without the vote totals from the referendum being released, it’s unknown how divided the tribe is on the idea of building a casino in Mountain Home. 

The Sho-Ban News article recounting an August 30  community meeting about the project quoted several tribal leaders and other members in favor of the project. FHBC Sergeant At Arms Gaylen Edmo said, according to the article, that the tribe needs to invest in a “money maker” project or multiple smaller ventures to bring in more revenue. A handout was reportedly given out at the meeting that said the tribe has had difficulty keeping up with expenses on the Fort Hall Reservation. 

The largest of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe’s three casinos, located off of Interstate 15 in Fort Hall. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

“The current revenue streams have been unable to keep up with the expansion of basic governmental services, rising cost of services, and inflation. Along with services, many of the reservations basic infrastructure needs repair and replacement (e.g. water & waste line, road repairs, broadband development, failing office buildings, etc.),” the handout said, according to Sho-Ban News.

In an interview with BoiseDev, Teton declined to comment on whether or not sales tax would be paid on-site because of how early the project was in development. She also declined to answer any questions about per capita payments to tribal members from the profits of the casino, noting it was “an internal matter.” 

However, the Sho-Ban News article recounting the August 30 meeting said the project would not impact current per capita payments and payments from the Mountain Home project would be paid out to tribal members once the debt to build the casino and “other unmet needs” of the tribe are met. 

‘I totally think that’s wrong’

Not everyone on the reservation is thrilled about the project.

Emaline George, a member of the recently formed group Elders for Justice, said she thinks pursuing a casino in Mountain Home, so far from Fort Hall, would not be to the tribe’s benefit. She and other members of her group say the tribe should invest locally on reservation property to build the economy on the reservation and use the land holdings the tribe already has to make more revenue before striking out in Mountain Home.

George also highly objects to the process the tribe used for the referendum vote, where ballots were not counted, and the results shared publicly, because it doesn’t let the community know just how many people object to the project. 

“I totally think that’s wrong,” George told BoiseDev. “The simple reason is here in America, voting is a right that everybody has, whether you’d be on an Indian Reservation or whether you are in a municipality or whether you are in congress.”

A view of some of the sprawling farm fields and mountains on the Fort Hall Reservation. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Wilma Teton, another member of Elders for Justice, said she disputes the number of voters needed to hit the 30% threshold the tribe came up with. She says the tribe counted the entire reservation population when coming up with the 30%, instead of just eligible voters over 21. Teton said this method of calculation made the turnout needed higher than it would have been otherwise, making it more difficult for enough ballots to be counted so the totals can be shared with the public. Randy’L Teton, the tribal spokesperson, did not respond to questions about this subject sent in an email. 

Wilma Teton said after hearing the Shoshone-Paiute’s frustrations with the Shoshone-Bannock’s casino proposal, she supports the other tribe having a shot at developing their first casino. Instead, she says her own tribe should focus on investing the revenue they already make paying off the newest casino, improving infrastructure, and creating resources to treat addiction in Fort Hall.

“This is why I support them in their efforts, and I wish them the best because I went and heard one of the council members call my leaders here bullies,” she said. “Well, (the Fort Hall Business Council) needs to stop and think about the other Indian people involved and the other tribes that are trying to bring themselves up to par with the rest of the tribes here in Idaho.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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