Casino A Roll Of The Dice For Entertainment Business

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The local chamber’s opposition to a gaming casino proposed for Wayland Township has some support. At least one executive in the local entertainment business agrees with the board’s concern that a casino may have a negative financial impact for some of the city’s shows and sporting events.

But he doesn’t feel that every event or sports franchise will suffer greatly. Those that are more family-oriented, he felt, will have a better chance to escape a casino’s financial grip.

DP Fox COO Scott Gorsline had a front-row seat to see how casinos in Kansas City affected business for the Blades, a former International Hockey League franchise owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos. Although the financial impact from gaming wasn’t devastating for the franchise, a blow was felt nonetheless.

“It was a significant new amount of competition that we had to deal with, as far as disposable income and entertainment options,” said Gorsline, who spent a lot of his time working with the Blades management.

“When they were first built, they really hit pretty hard because it was new and different. I think that effect has worn off a little bit, but it still is certainly an issue,” he added.

Gorsline noted, however, that the impact from the casinos wasn’t completely negative.

“In some ways, it was a positive for us, too, as they were pretty aggressive in sponsoring teams,” he said. “They became sponsors of the local sports teams, but they drew fans away also.”

Kansas City has four full-gaming riverside casinos. Last year, their collective gross receipts hit $535 million — a gain of $39 million from 1999. Through the first quarter of this year, the gross take for the four averaged $48.5 million per month, up from $44.5 million in 2000, according to the Kansas City Star.

Despite losing the Blades, DP Fox is still co-owner of the Grand Rapids Griffins, an American Hockey League team, and sole owner of the Grand Rapids Rampage, an Arena Football League franchise. So far, however, Gorsline said the possibility of a casino in the area hasn’t come up as a serious topic of discussion at the company’s management meetings.

“We’re obviously aware of what is going on. I don’t think we view it at this point as a major consideration, though,” he said. “Any new entertainment options affect both of our teams, but the Griffins tend to be a little bit more like the Whitecaps, a little bit more family-oriented than the Rampage.”

DP Fox promotes the Rampage to area families, but hasn’t achieved quite the same amount of success in doing that as it has with the Griffins, and as Lew Chamberlin and Dennis Baxter have with the West Michigan Whitecaps.

And his experience in Kansas City tells Gorsline that the more family-oriented a sports franchise, or any entertainment event, is, the less effect a casino will have on its revenue. So Gorsline feels that the Griffins and Whitecaps will be more immune to suffering a revenue loss to a casino than the Rampage may be.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce opposes a casino for Wayland Township on economic grounds. The group’s board of directors estimated that between $35 million to $55 million in Kent County entertainment revenue will be lost to the Allegan County casino, which is expected to take in $160 million in gross income in its first full year.

“If approved, the proposed casino would have a negative economic impact on members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Jeff Gietzen, chairman of the chamber board of directors.

“The loss of revenue due to decreased downtown Grand Rapids activities could be devastating to the local economy and will certainly impede the current renaissance occurring downtown,” he added.

The Gun Lake Band Of Pottawatomi Indians wants to build the casino near a U.S. 131 exit in Wayland Township.

If a local casino uses the same marketing tactic here that was used in Kansas City, outdoor advertising firms will likely see a jump in sales revenue.

“As you’re driving along, it seems like every other billboard [in Kansas City] is for one of the casinos,” said Gorsline, who added that statement still holds true today. “They definitely have a very noticeable presence in that market.” 

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