Native American Tribes in Idaho Offer Mountain Home Casinos

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Ted Howard, left, former president of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Business Council, was among leaders and speakers at the first celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Idaho in 2019. A ceremony was held in the rotunda of the Capitol, hosted by Indigenos Idaho Alliance.  Proposals for two casinos, one in Shoshone-Paiute, are underway in and near Mountain Home in rural Elmore County.

Ted Howard, left, former president of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Business Council, was among leaders and speakers at the first celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day in Idaho in 2019. A ceremony was held in the rotunda of the Capitol, hosted by Indigenos Idaho Alliance. Proposals for two casinos, one in Shoshone-Paiute, are underway in and near Mountain Home in rural Elmore County.

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Casino projects are underway in Mountain Home.

Two Native American tribal groups in Idaho are interested in establishing gambling businesses in the county town of Elmore.

One proposal comes from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, based on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. The tribes purchased land outside of Mountain Home in Elmore County in January 2020, according to the Elmore County Assessor’s Office.

The 154.5-acre parcel sits southeast of the city and just west of Interstate 84 in the Mountain Home Impact Zone, meaning the city is free to annex it .

The tribes proposed a “casino with 2,000 electronic gaming machines; a 250-room hotel; six food and beverage venues; 15,000 square foot event center; a bowling center on eight islands; two movie theaters; a video games room; racecourse and a grandstand and an outdoor area,” according to an article published on a tribal news site.

The site would be 500,000 square feet and cost $311 million.

The article said the project was “conceptual”, “because we still haven’t had the members’ blessing”.

The tribes have three casinos on the reservation in eastern Idaho.

A spokesman for the tribes, Randy’L Teton, told the Idaho Statesman on Aug. 23 that it was too early to make an announcement about the project. Teton said the tribes are “proposing an economic project” on Mountain Home land.

A Mountain Home town spokeswoman, Betsy Hiddleston, told the Statesman that the tribes have been doing outreach in the town, asking residents if they would prefer a casino, event center, bowling alley or a movie theater be built on the property. But the tribes have not confirmed to the city what they want to build.

The casino plans were first reported by BoiseDev.

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Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes perform at the opening ceremony for the 10th Annual Boise Valley Residents Homecoming in August 2021. Sarah A. Miller

A second casino option

The second proposal comes from the Shoshone-Paiute tribes, based on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Idaho-Nevada border. The tribes submitted a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in early August regarding their plans to build a casino at Mountain Home, said Brian Mason, the tribe’s chairman.

Mason said the Shoshone-Paiute tribes, which don’t have a casino on their remote reservation, have been working on a casino project since the 1990s.

In recent years, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes have considered several proposed partners for a casino business, including the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

The Shoshone-Bannock proposed a partnership that would distribute a 40% interest in the project to the Shoshone-Paiutes. Mason said his tribes rejected this, wanting to have a better interest in a project.

“We are currently the only tribe in the state of Idaho that does not have a gambling operation,” Mason told the Statesman.

Idaho has Native American casinos in Lewiston, Pocatello, Kamiah, and south of Coeur d’Alene, as well as the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. South of Twin Falls is a non-tribal casino which includes table games just south of the Nevada border at Jackpot.

Idaho casinos offer video games and bingo, not table games like blackjack, craps, and poker.

Restrictions eased in recent years allow tribes to build casinos on land farther from their reservations.

The tribes decided to partner with a company called JTC Gaming, which Mason says has built several other casinos in the United States. He said the company already owns land in Mountain Home.

Mason called the Duck Valley Reservation “the poorest land” in Idaho or Nevada, saying the economic benefit of a casino would greatly help the Shoshone-Paiute tribes.

The tribes, which have about 2,300 members, bring in less than $1 million in revenue each year and about 60% of reservation residents are unemployed, Mason said. This is largely because people who don’t work for the tribes or the ranch don’t have many other options for finding work. The Shoshone-Bannock tribes are larger.

Mason also noted that the Shoshone-Paiute have strong ties to Mountain Home because it’s the closest town — 97 miles away — with the infrastructure for tribal members to purchase goods and services.

For more than 40 years, members of the tribe have been born in a hospital in Mountain Home, and elders have held funerals and embalmings at the county seat of Elmore.

“We are literally a cradle-to-grave community at Mountain Home,” he said. “We are Mountain Home.”

Are two casinos in conflict?

Mason said tribes need to show Aboriginal connections to lands outside of their reservations. The Shoshone-Paiute and Shoshone-Bannock can do it, he said, but Mason said his tribes’ connection to Mountain Home is stronger.

“We both have Aboriginal rights, but who is legitimately doing business there as we speak? ” he said.

“Fort Hall already has three casinos. They’re on the east side of the state, 200 miles away. We just think we have more ties to Mountain Home than they do,” he said.

Mason said he was not unhappy with the Shoshone-Bannock, as the two tribes have close ties and family relationships.

Members of both reservations are descended from some of the same tribes, which is why the two share the name Shoshone, a tribe that has long lived in the Great Basin and other parts of the West Mountain. In the 19th century, Native Americans were forcibly moved to reservations by the US government, and different bands of tribes were moved to reservations often by chance, Mason said.

Mason said he would like Mountain Home’s support and plans to hold discussions with the city.

“There is room for a gambling operation at Mountain Home,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s room for two, but there’s definitely room for a game operation.”

And after?

The Shoshone-Paiutes and Shoshone-Bannocks would also need approval from the Governor, the Town of Mountain Home, and possibly the Elmore County Commissioners.

Because potential Shoshone-Paiute land is off the Duck Valley Reservation, it would first have to be put into trust by the tribe, Mason said. In July 2020, the Shoshone-Paiutes discussed the issue with Governor Brad Little.

A spokesperson for the governor, Madison Hardy, said Little’s office has yet to receive a formal request.

“Governor Little will review and review an application once received, as required by law,” she said via email.

Journalist Angela Palermo contributed to it.

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Ian Max Stevenson covers the city of Boise and climate change at the Idaho Statesman. If you enjoy seeing stories like this, consider supporting our work by subscribing to our journal.
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