FLORENCE – A Montana developer hoping to open a casino in a Florence convenience store has withdrawn his application for a beer and wine license after it drew too much “bad publicity” for the property’s owner.
“Town Pump is very public relations-minded,” said Dan Fillinger, the commercial real estate developer and owner of Mountain Magic Pubs LLC, who wanted to open a Mountain Magic Casino in space owned by Town Pump Inc. near the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 and the Eastside Highway in Florence.
“They’re good people. They came to me and said, ‘Would you consider not doing it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s not that big of a deal to me.’ ”
In December, Fillinger applied for the new beer and wine license necessary for a casino through the Montana Department of Revenue.
Shawna Helfert, administrator for the Liquor Control Division, confirmed the application has been withdrawn by Fillinger and said no specific reason was given.
Fillinger’s application drew 420 eligible protest letters from area residents, many of whom fought a proposed Lucky Lil’s casino in the same spot in 2000.
A state Department of Revenue Liquor Control Division hearings examiner later denied that beer and wine license request after more than 800 area residents testified they didn’t want another casino in town.
Florence residents Steve and Bonnie Arno were involved in both protests and were delighted to learn Fillinger’s application was withdrawn.
“I think a whole bunch of us have expressed some pride in the people of the community, that they would take the time to (protest) this. They care enough about their community, to me that’s the take-home,” Arno said on Friday.
They argued another casino would negatively impact the town in a variety of ways, saying demand for alcohol and gambling in the area already is met by three bar/casinos and several Town Pump casinos located within seven miles of Florence.
The Arnos organized an informal phone tree to alert residents to the application and circulated a form letter that included the address of the Department of Revenue, deadline for protests and directions on what a protest letter needed, Steve said.
“People had to fill in their own personal reasons (for protesting) and their name and address and sign it,” he said.
Fillinger said in January he believed it was a small group made up of friends of local bar owners and members of the religious right who were spearheading the protest. He noted that Arno holds a weekly Bible study at KT’s Hayloft Saloon and Deli in Lolo.
Arno said he doesn’t consider himself a member of the religious right and that no bar owners joined in the protest because they feared retribution if they got involved. He said the Bible study is held at the Hayloft because it’s convenient, quiet and the only spot nearby that offers breakfast.
On Friday, Fillinger said he still has questions about who was behind the protests, but is ready to move on. He’s currently working on several other projects, mostly in the eastern part of the state.