Vail Vailly Voices: Let’s gamble on Vail |

Vail Vailly Voices: Let’s gamble on Vail

Bill Sepmeier
Vail, CO, Colorado

According to the Forest Service, the rapidly spreading epidemic of pine bark beetle is leaving behind an ever-increasing number of dead trees.

As these dead trees begin to decay, they represent a growing threat to the safety of people traveling through or using the White River National Forest.

One way to deal with the problem of these ex-trees would be to use them for biomass energy.

Andrew King, a partner in Hayden, Cory and King, told the Eagle County commissioners recently that the company has applied for a $25 million federal grant to build a wood-gas electrical generation plant. He added that the company is also planning to move ahead with or without the grant.

But what will this area do to attract continued tourism, which before the collapse of the real estate and development industry was the reason people came up here to spend and invest money, once the millions of dead trees are first really obvious, then dangerous and finally, burned — either in the making of energy or in some horrendous wildland fires?

After all, there is a lot of dead wood on these slopes. Dead wood. Well, as noted in a recent story in USA Today, before South Dakota voters approved the change in their state constitution that allowed casinos to open in the town of Deadwood, buildings around town were crumbling and businesses were dying. Then most of Main Street was converted to casinos. Real estate started to sell for far more than anyone had imagined.

Actor Kevin Costner bought a casino after making his hit movie, “Dances with Wolves,” in South Dakota. HBO created an acclaimed series, Deadwood, that ran for three seasons and capitalized on the town’s notorious past.

Vail doesn’t have a past, but Hollywood would come up with something. Per USA Today, Deadwood now has about three dozen casinos, 3,500 slot machines and about 100 card tables, according to the state Gaming Commission.

Over the years, the casino industry has brought in 2,000 new jobs, millions of dollars in profits, and tax money for extensive renovations to Deadwood’s buildings and infrastructure.

Perhaps, before the two million acres or so of dead wood around here becomes another source of capital and population flight, Coloradans should consider Deadwood South Dakota’s revival and begin taking the steps needed to bring gambling to Vail.

Face it, we Americans love the “something for nothing” concept. It was behind the past two decades of real estate flipping and “wealth creation” from Wall Street to Bridge Street. The entire goal of the “information economy” was to make money while producing nothing.

Gambling. Vail is easier to get to than the state’s other gambling retreats. It’s bisected by Interstate 70. It would be far easier for lots more people to pull off the highway and drop a few hundred dollars into the a slot machine than to get these same people to stop and spend the same amount for a bowl of soup and a sandwich, which has long been the Vail offering to passers-by.

There will still be skiing and other recreational venues for the winners to spend money on, even considering the long odds winning gamblers happily face.

Most skiers already have their now-discounted season pass. They could lose all their cash in town and still enjoy the mountain. Local tax revenues, now diving off cliffs steeper that anything the Ravinos took on, would rocket back up again.

Vail, while right next to the road, is not a short drive from anywhere. Front Range and Utah gamblers would stay in our hotels and condos. Everyone would dine in Vail’s restaurants. Revenues would really explode when the pass was closed.

Unlike Blackhawk and Central City, Vail’s got a sweet new high-end airport for the high rollers and their private jets. Unlike the other gambling towns, including Deadwood, Vail already has 99 percent of the casino and other infrastructure in place — huge new hotels in the town’s core are almost complete, everything is already covered with little twinkling white light bulbs; all that would have to be added are the gaming tables and equipment — and some big new safes to keep the cash in.

Finally, there’s no “historic town” to be “lost” to casino development. Vail’s not as old as me or most of the county’s residents, people who generally came from elsewhere to strike gold in the extractive mine that was exceptionally overpriced property development.

If you want historic, you have Eagle. Eagle would have loads of cash, thanks to the upvalley revival of business in general, much of which is owned and manned by Eagle and other downvalley residents. And of course, there will be county tax revenues rolling into the county seat, which could afford to keep plowing the roads.

It would require a statewide vote, but Vail Resorts has a large Front Range presence and the capital resources to lead the lobbying campaign before the 2010 elections.

If they could run high stakes games at Eagle’s Nest and Mid-Vail, it wouldn’t matter that all of the trees on the mountain are dead, since people in casinos rarely look up from the tables. Casinos generally don’t even have windows.

Acres of dead wood or Deadwood II? I think the choice is clear.

Bill Sepmeier lives off the grid in Sweetwater.

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