Elmore County residents got their first crack at asking questions about a proposal to bring a Shoshone-Bannock casino to Mountain Home.
This week the East Idaho-based tribe held two open houses at the Elks Club in Mountain Home. Leaders presented the project proposal to the public, took input, and collected signatures for the upcoming petitions to the Department of the Interior the casino needs to get off the ground. In order for a casino to be approved off of tribal lands, it will require a green light from several levels of government including the Department of the Interior, Governor Brad Little, and the City of Mountain Home.
Dozens of attendees milled around tables with presentation boards filled with information about more than 1,000 jobs the project is estimated to create, the millions of purported economic impact, and the tribe’s process to put the land in trust.
This is one of two proposals for a tribal casino in Mountain Home. The other proposal, from the Shoshone-Paiute tribe from Duck Valley, is still in progress, but it’s unknown at this time how far along they are in the process of development. They turned down a joint venture with the Shoshone-Bannock tribe multiple times, according to information displayed at the open house.
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Planning Director Alonzo Coby, who is heading up the project, told BoiseDev the tribe has already completed the necessary feasibility study, business plan, and economic impact study. However, it still needs to complete the necessary environmental studies required by the federal government. The land in-trust application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to take roughly a year, and depending on the outcome of that, the next step would be approval from Little.
Coby says the majority of the people he’s talked to about the project have been excited about it, as well as the tribe’s work to involve the public.
“(Elmore County residents) are excited about the planning process we’re going through with getting community input,” he said. “We don’t want to invest $300 to $400 million for a project if we’re not wanted here. We want to make sure the community buys in.”
BoiseDev interviewed several attendees at the open house to hear their thoughts on the project.
Several people shared mixed feelings about the project. They acknowledged the benefits of more jobs in the small community and the excitement of more entertainment and things to do, but they also saw the potential downside of casinos. Several said it would allow people to gamble locally more easily, making it more likely they could run into a gambling addiction, and it could prove to be a difficult temptation for young service members serving on the Mountain Home Air Force base to resist.
Beverly Hammerlund said this situation reminds her of a popular show where a casino comes to a small Montana town. She said it will be “a big winner” for Mountain Home, but it will also create difficulties.
“It’s going to bring jobs in and do a lot of things, but it will also take people’s money away,” she said. “Right now it’s two hours to get to Jackpot and another hour to get to Idaho Falls.”
Michael Brown is a Boise resident, but he came all the way down to Mountain Home to hear about the casino and express his support. He’s not a big casino gambler, but said he sorely misses the Les Bois race track at the Expo Idaho site and is looking forward to racing being available in Mountain Home.
“We have to have a horse racing track in Idaho,” he said.
Sheriff Mike Hollinshead said making a judgment on if a casino should come to Mountain Home is “above my pay grade.” He said whatever decision comes on the project, he will work to ensure the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office is ready for it.
“If it goes forward, I’ll be in the loop from the very beginning so I can start planning so if it does go through I’m not starting at the beginning,” he said.
The Shoshone-Bannock tribe has been working on this project for more than a decade.
In a timeline presented at the open house, the tribe outlined all of its efforts to bring the project online. The tribe’s executive director commissioned a report that identified parcels in Mountain Home for a casino as early as 2015 and a task force started working on the issue in 2017. Meetings were held with the City of Mountain home as early as the end of that year, and then-Lieutenant Governor Brad Little heard a presentation on the project in early 2018.
The tribe started looking to contract with an architect in 2019, and the 157-acre parcel was officially purchased in January 2020. Shoshone-Bannock tribal members working on the casino project met again with Little right after the land purchase, but he signaled he “still preferred the inclusion of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in a joint venture.”
The Shoshone-Bannock tribe says they met with the Shoshone-Paiute tribe to talk about a joint venture in the fall of 2018, March of 2019, and again in February 2020, but negotiations were unsuccessful, and the tribes are both pushing ahead on their own projects alone. This could be highly consequential to the project because Little will have to sign off on it. The tribe met with Little again about the idea in mid-January 2023, but the Governor has yet to say anything publicly about his thoughts on the idea.
Numerous meetings were held about the project with Elmore County officials in several departments in early 2022, including presentations to the City of Mountain Home, Elmore County, and a meeting with the Elmore County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Hall Police Department. County officials met with the tribe again in October 2022 to discuss a project update.