Chamber Hopes Casino Busts

February 21, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Busily trying to fill a big hole in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Jennifer Granholm hasn't had time to take a position on a casino being proposed by the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians for Wayland Township.

"The whole issue of the Gun Lake casino is under review," said Elizabeth Boyd, a spokeswoman for the governor.

"I have not been given a timetable," added Boyd about how long a review might take.

"Our focus, quite frankly, has been on developing the budget and that is being given top priority because we have a $1.7 billion budget deficit, and that is where her energy is being spent."

Boyd said Granholm was aware of the situation and that she would address the issue in the near future. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, however, chimed in on the matter last week by unveiling the Community Partnership for Economic Growth (CPEG) – a coalition that strongly opposes the casino proposal.

Citing an analysis done by the Anderson Economic Group, a public policy and economic consulting firm in Lansing, CPEG emphatically said an Allegan County casino would be bad for businesses, taxpayers and communities in West Michigan.

"The No. 1 concern of CPEG is the state has no policy framework at all to evaluate and consider casino proposals," said Chamber President John Brown.

"Really what we have been advocating is that the state take each casino proposal and analyze it, and that is now what we have done," he added.

Brown said the AEG analysis clearly shows that the state has the right to decide if casinos should be located in the state and where these businesses can locate. The report also calls for Lansing officials to do a complete economic review of every casino proposal they receive.

"And the casino should be a net-positive for the region and for the state," said Brown.

"Otherwise there's no compelling reason to transfer a significant economic activity from the established economy to the casino economy."

CPEG feels the analysis done by the Gun Lake tribe is flawed, and that the proposed casino would siphon money from existing businesses and not pay its fair share of taxes to Lansing.

The 165-member tribe said its casino would create 4,300 jobs and have $169.7 million in revenue annually. The AEG analysis claimed that $92.1 million of that total revenue would come from other industries under one competitive-casino scenario, and $42.4 million under another.

State lawmakers in both Republican-controlled chambers approved a resolution in December that encouraged Gov. John Engler to sign a casino compact with the Gun Lake tribe. But Engler refused to sign it before he left office, citing his close connections to a trio of Mount Pleasant businessmen who reportedly have an interest in the casino as why, and left the compact for Granholm to deal with.

Brown told the Business Journal that he did not speak about the proposed casino with Granholm when the governor was the featured speaker at the chamber's annual meeting a few weeks ago. But he did say that Granholm wouldn't sign the Gun Lake compact without first hearing from CPEG.

"We have communicated with the governor's office and they have provided assurances that she will not sign the compact unless and until we have an opportunity to make our case, and we have shared with them the fact that we think the policy framework is badly needed here," said Brown.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is expected to decide in May whether the property the tribe has chosen for its casino, the former Ampro Industries site, can be placed in a trust. If the bureau does say yes to that, some say the Gun Lake band can open a Class II casino without a state compact.

A Class II casino license, however, doesn't allow for the most profitable games such as slots, craps and blackjack that are permitted under a Class III license. CPEG sent its analysis to the bureau.

Critics of the CPEG campaign have claimed that the group's opposition to the casino amounts to practicing a protectionist-type of economics within a free-market system. Brown strongly disagrees with that claim.

"That's an ironic argument because what they're seeking is a state-sanctioned monopoly that would then operate to the disadvantage of surrounding businesses," said Brown.           

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