Developer: Opponents blow proposed Florence casino out of proportion

2013-01-22T06:15:00Z 2013-02-22T19:21:06Z Developer: Opponents blow proposed Florence casino out of proportionBy JENNA CEDERBERG of the Missoulian missoulian.com
January 22, 2013 6:15 am  • 

FLORENCE – The commercial real estate developer hoping to open a new casino in Florence said Monday that opposition to the plan comes from a small minority of local residents who have blown the issue “way out of proportion.”

“You have a very small minority set of people that make up their mind they’re going to stop this. They’re very much from the religious right, for the most part, or their good friends own bars in the community, or a combination of both,” said Dan Fillinger, owner of Mountain Magic Pubs LLC.

In December, Fillinger applied for a new beer and wine license through the Montana Department of Revenue so he can open a Mountain Magic Casino in a space owned by Town Pump Inc. near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and the Eastside Highway in Florence.

Fillinger has done property and tax work for Town Pump in the past. He also has owned bars or casinos around the state, including the Missoula Ale House, at various times.

“I just noticed there wasn’t a casino in Florence. I thought, well that’d be a good opportunity,” Fillinger said. “Town Pump did warn me and said, ‘We tried it many years ago and it was really difficult and we decided not to do it.’ They said, ‘We don’t want to try it again. You’re more than welcome to.’ ”

In 2000, a state Department of Revenue Liquor Control Division hearings examiner denied a beer and wine license request by Lucky Lil’s casino for the same spot after more than 800 area residents testified they didn’t want another casino in the town.

***

Bonnie and Steve Arno, who helped organize the grassroots citizen group that fought the casino expansion in 2000, are again heading up the opposition group. They say demand for alcohol and gambling in the area is already met by the three bar/casinos in town and the multiple Town Pump casinos that are located within seven miles of Florence.

Another casino would further perpetuate the drunken driving problems in the area and be a negative impact on high school students who often gather at the Town Pump during lunch, Steve Arno said last week.

The Department of Revenue has received enough letters of protest about the issue to warrant a public hearing in Florence. The hearing most likely will be set for late spring. The deadline to submit protest letters is Feb. 11.

Fillinger plans to bring his own attorneys and a contingent of supporters to the license hearing. He thinks he can get around 100 people to testify in favor of his plan.

Fillinger argues that casinos rarely overserve gamblers, saying that his establishments have never been cited for overservice or for serving a minor.

Plus, he said, the tax revenue and jobs offered by the casino would be a boost for Ravalli County.

“They blow it so far out of proportion, let’s look at the violence on television, let’s go after things that are really going to make a difference in society rather than a small business simply trying to hire eight to 10 employees in a place that really needs employment,” Fillinger said.

***

Fillinger also believes the area population has grown enough since 2000 to warrant another casino.

Florence resident Philip Maechling, who opposes the new casino, disagreees. The population in Florence has dipped since the 2000 census, dropping to 765 from 901, he said.

U.S. Census numbers show the population in Ravalli County overall was up by almost 12 percent, from 36,070 to 40,212, Maechling said.

“All of that growth is on the other side of the Bitterroot River, not in the community of Florence,” he said. “It’s kind of about community design. Do we need more signs? Do we need more gambling machines? I just don’t know, I don’t think so.”

The Arnos believe they’ll be able to gather a well-balanced group of protesters, just as they did in 2000.

The Arnos said they are neither members of the religious right nor close friends with current Florence bar owners.

In fact, Steve Arno said, during the last protest the group had a hard time getting bar owners involved at all.

“I don’t know how it is now, but Town Pump is so big and powerful, they weren’t going to say anything or get involved in any way,” he said.

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. ShaynaJ
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    ShaynaJ - January 25, 2013 5:49 pm
    No, again, you are missing the point. I don't think Mr. Arno's intention is to totally wipe out all casinos and bars. He does, however, seem to have the opinion that ANOTHER casino/bar in Florence is a bad idea for multiple reasons. Refer to the story for the list of reasons that people have given for being opposed to a casino. AGAIN...my point is that being against a casino in one town does not automatically mean you are against a casino in every town, and being an active member in a church does not automatically mean that you only protest things due to your religious beliefs. People have opinions about things based on MANY factors in their life, not just religious belief. The Men's Bible Study (not in quotes because it isn't ficticious or a joke) meets at a local restaurant (FYI- there are no decent restaurants in Florence) to enjoy good food and support a locally owned small business. You also make the assumption that because people go to church they think they are "high and mighty". You have obviously been around the wrong church-goers. Most Christians I know go to church because they realize they are inadequate in many areas of their life, want to improve themselves, and become better people. Last point, we actually agree that Florence does not need another casino! It's a miracle! Can Florence use another church? This world is getting worse every single day. Anyone who is willing to start a church with good values, a heart for community service, kindness, compassion, and humility should absolutely start a church no matter where they live!
  2. reality check 4 you
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    reality check 4 you - January 23, 2013 11:31 am
    Are you creating any jobs! I thought not!
  3. reality check 4 you
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    reality check 4 you - January 23, 2013 11:30 am
    Amen!
  4. reality check 4 you
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    reality check 4 you - January 22, 2013 8:16 pm
    It will add to the high school courses of study! I'm sure the school and board would endorse drinking lessons, gambling lessons and who knows what else? Maybe dealing cards 101 and defensive D.U.I's, and who knows what other fabulous learning skills. Maybe their can be a bar-tending class for seniors. Just like the High school kegger, maybe now the students could get extra credit and learn from the pro's! Sadly these people care more about a "casino" than the crooks at the school!
  5. reality check 4 you
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    reality check 4 you - January 22, 2013 8:05 pm
    Amen
  6. Bittersweet
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    Bittersweet - January 22, 2013 6:35 pm
    Am I missing something? In reality what is going to happen if there is a separate room or addition off the Town Pump that has gambling machines? Seriously? Because some kids bypass Gary and Leos for lunch they may go as far (but not any further in your opinion) than the Town Pump for a burnt burrito and they might see someone walking from their vehicle to the gaming room to......gamble. GASP!! Ohhhhhh the humanity!!!! Cover your eyes children! Also cover them when you drive by the other bars that may have gambling machines......just in case evil doers are visible.

    ..........

    Meanwhile Mr Arno, the the voice of the biggest opposition to a casino in HIS town continues to lead his "bible study" classes at Frank Millers KTs Hayloft in nearby Lolo.....The same establishment that is being sued by Brian Beavers estate for allegedly (over) serving the man that ultimately killed Brian.
  7. HelenWheels
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    HelenWheels - January 22, 2013 4:03 pm
    @raptor53

    I am not opposing casinos in Florence, just one at the Town Pump. In fact, if Mr. Fillinger would like to develop the property just south of the Wild River service station into a casino/restaurant/banquet center, he would have my full support and patronage.

    I'd love to get rid of the giant Conoco sign, but there is no reason to make a bad situation worse by adding a flashing casino sign.
  8. Bittersweet
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    Bittersweet - January 22, 2013 2:48 pm
    So the bible study Mr Arno leads meets on the other inside wall of Frank's casino.....in the same building....in Franks Cafe? (The same restaurant where one must speak loudly so your company can hear you over the beep beep beep of the gambling machines?) I see, the 4" uninsulated wall must keep the evil separated from the good. Makes perfect sense now. (rolls eyes) Either way Frank Miller, the owner of several casinos that will potentially compete with the one proposed is getting a nice Check at least once a week from Steve Arno's "bible study" group. You are implying the Arnos have a different set of values and beliefs inside and outside of the church. You arent fooling anyone. Don't get me wrong, the Arnos ARE good people, this I know. They just need to realize not everyone is as high and mighty as they might think they are. Save yourself, don't worry about saving the adults around you. Futhermore in case you are wondering, I don't gamble. I have no interest in it. Does Florence NEED another casino? Probably not but do they need another church?
  9. JacksonB
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    JacksonB - January 22, 2013 2:35 pm
    It is amazing how people interpret things they way they wish, let the casino go in and let the market decide. Despite the guy in the White House, this is still America, and Capitalism is still alive.
  10. dsrobins
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    dsrobins - January 22, 2013 2:07 pm
    Filinger is just another small scale "developer" with the typical "let the public be damned" attitude. Here's to the success of the protesting group.
  11. ShaynaJ
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    ShaynaJ - January 22, 2013 1:51 pm
    Good job Bittersweet! You know how to use Google. Your point, however, is irrelevant. If you were to do your research more thoroughly, you would know that Florence-Carlton Community Church has several hundred active members. There are dozens of groups, studies, activities, and community events held at the church or by church members weekly. Just because a person is an active member in a church, does not disqualify them from speaking out against something publicly. I think the point of the statement in the article that the people protesting the casino were not "religious right" and Mr. Arno's statement that he was not fighting this because he was a "religious right", means that the purpose of his opposition has nothing to do with religion. As stated in the article, the reasons he and his wife disagree with the casino vary, but it was never mentioned that they agree with it because of religious beliefs. Being religious and fighting for something that you believe in because of religion are two TOTALLY different concepts. Also, again, if you did your research, you would know that the Men's Bible Study you are referring to in your comment that is led by Mr. Arno actually meets for breakfast at KT's, not in the casino. I can assure you that no one is hitting the Keno machines while they are having bible study.
  12. raptor53
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    raptor53 - January 22, 2013 12:56 pm
    you mean another sign to ruin the view like the huge Conoco sign there now ? little late to complain about that issue. how about one more used car lot to help beautify and save this lovely thriving community ? or maybe another gravel pit would spruce things up ? The entire strip is pretty hideous to be honest about it. Florence is "NO ZONING " central and now you cry babies suddenly want to keep something out. Hypocrits. Ye reap what ye sow !

  13. HelenWheels
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    HelenWheels - January 22, 2013 9:52 am
    I am the polar opposite of a right wing Christian, I don't know any bar owners and I very much oppose a casino at this location. Florence doesn't need a casino within an easy lunch time walk of Florence-Carlton High School.

    Mr. Fillinger certainly has not done his market research well. There are already three underused casinos in town, all of them south of the Eastside Hwy intersection. I go them everyday and have not seen that any is doing a huge business. I can't believe a casino at the Town Pump would be any different. Since the new casino would probably only take customers from the existing casinos rather than raising the total number of casino patrons, there would be little or no new tax revenue. Furthermore, Florence doesn't need a flashy "Magic Mountain" casino sign, obscuring the view of our real magic mountains at the most prominent intersection in town.

    I wouldn't oppose a new casino south of the Eastside Hwy intersection. There's open space and property for sale that would be great casino locations. Of course the new casino would have to deal with the other three casinos already in place within a half mile.

    Town Pump has been a pretty good citizen of Florence and I wish them continued success, but if this casino goes through, I will go out of my way not to buy gas at the Town Pump. I will go to the Wild River service station further south, which also has a casino. I hope they still sell gas.
  14. Bittersweet
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    Bittersweet - January 22, 2013 9:39 am
    ".......We already have three casinos within a 1/3 mile stretch thought the middle of Florence"............."he can certainly donate some of his wealth to our local volunteer Fire Dept, our Senior Citizen program and our public schools. For that he would get all of the admiration he could handle"

    ..............

    This is exactly the hypocrisy I am referring to. So which is it? You don't want a casino in your town unless he buys you off, then it's no longer evil? Whew, talk about the good old boys club.
  15. Diver
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    Diver - January 22, 2013 9:12 am
    Mr. Fillinger is not proposing this because he wants to create 10 new low paying jobs for Florence, he is simply doing it to line his pockets with more revenue from the sale of alcohol and gambling.
    We already have three casinos within a 1/3 mile stretch thought the middle of Florence. I am astounded that Mr. Fillinger couldn’t see that as he makes the statement, “I just noticed there wasn’t a casino in Florence”. Has Mr. Fillingrer ever driven through Florence? I can’t wait to hear what other factual revelations he may come up with at the Hearing.
    If he really wants to do something for our community, he can certainly donate some of his wealth to our local volunteer Fire Dept, our Senior Citizen program and our public schools. For that he would get all of the admiration he could handle as the pay back.
    Finally, no number of attorneys or contingent of outside supporters should be able to dictate to a local community how many bars and casinos they should support. This is a local community issue and the decisions should be made within the community.
  16. The_Boneshackler
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    The_Boneshackler - January 21, 2013 11:14 pm
    Yeah...more boozin' and gamblin' will be a long-term boost for the local community.
  17. Bittersweet
    Report Abuse
    Bittersweet - January 21, 2013 10:08 pm
    "The Arnos said they are neither members of the religious right nor close friends with current Florence bar owners."

    ......

    Interesting Steve. It wasn't hard to find this Florence Community Church link where you are listed as leading Bible Study classes @ 6:45 am every Tuesday at Frank Millers KTs Hayloft Saloon and casino in nearby Lolo.
    ....................

    http://florencecarltonchurch.com/auxiliary-organizations/bible-studies/

    ....................

    Oh the humanity! Not it OUR town! You are simply hypocrites. This is exactly why I no longer attend church. Really though Steve and Bonnie, maybe you wouldn't have to drive all the way to your buddy Franks Casino/Bar in Lolo for Bible Study if there was a venue in your own town that would accommodate you. Just sayin.....
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