A Local PAC Is Going National

November 22, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A local political action committee is expanding its fight to stop casino expansion.

23 Is Enough — a coalition of area business and community leaders that opposes more gaming houses in Michigan — is trying to get a freeze throughout the country on any new tribal casinos until it can muster more than enough Congressional votes to amend the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The group's national effort was ignited by election returns from across the country that showed voters wanted more say over gaming. In Michigan, Proposal 1 passed by a 58-42 margin. The measure requires voter approval before any new non-tribal casinos can open.

"Unfortunately, Proposal 1 could not go far enough to include the most rampant form of gambling expansion in Michigan and throughout our nation — tribal casinos," said Mike Jandernoa, chairman of 23 Is Enough.

Other casino proposals were defeated on election day in California and Nebraska.

"Federal tribal gaming laws must be reformed to give state voters more rights on tribal gaming expansion and state governments must stand up against casino special interests by opposing new compacts," added Jandernoa.

23 Is Enough plans to enlist state and federal lawmakers to introduce resolutions in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C., that would prohibit new Indian-owned gambling operations from opening until IGRA gives voters and state legislatures more say in whether or not they want these casinos.

"At the federal level, there are a couple of different opportunities. Approaches could include amendments to appropriations bills. Another approach could include a full-blown reform of IGRA, which will, of course, take time and energy and will need champions at the federal level — both in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate — to really run with that," said John Helmholdt, 23 Is Enough spokesman.

The group is counting on three Republican congressmen from the state to get its message heard loudly in the House: Vern Ehlers of Grand Rapids, Peter Hoekstra of Holland and Livingston's Mike Rogers. The effort also includes discussions with members of the Interior Department, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs is housed, the Bush administration and the Senate. The same tactics will be used to reach lawmakers in the 50 state capitals, too.

"We want them to pass resolutions that propose a moratorium on new tribal casinos until voters and state and local governments have more rights," said Helmholdt.

"In order to make a sweeping reform and address the issue, it must be multi-pronged."

Michigan, of course, is on the group's list and the PAC feels the recent election provided some timely momentum for its anti-casino movement. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm and a few state lawmakers, most notably outgoing House Speaker Rick Johnson, went on record as opposing Proposal 1, claiming passage of the measure would harm revenue to state schools.

"With a record turnout and overwhelming voter opposition to casino expansion, Gov. Granholm and lawmakers in Michigan should take note of the anti-casino sentiment at the state and national level," said Jandernoa.

What the group wants to come from a reform of IGRA is the right for a state to reject a tribal gaming compact. The PAC hasn't crossed all the T's and dotted all the I's on its plan yet to get that result, but Helmholdt said those details would be coming later.

"We're not going to accept more tribal casinos in our state, first and foremost, and that needs to be very clear and specified," he said.

Helmholdt said that the committee doesn't want to dictate how individual states will deal with these casinos, just that they have the ability to do so. He added that under IGRA local governments have no control over how a casino is designed and built because the property is considered federal land.

"Once the land is in trust, the local government, the zoning commission, the planning commission, even the state Legislature have no say over that development. So (a tribe) can promise everything and then build whatever they want," said Helmholdt.

23 Is Enough doesn't see its national fight against more casinos as hopeless. In fact, the group strongly feels that more gaming houses are not inevitable and is more than willing to dig in its heels for the long battle it likely has ahead of it.

"We do not want another casino, whether it's tribal or not. We're really focused on the rampant proliferation of tribal casinos," said Helmholdt. "States do have rights. It's been shown that no tribal compact has ever been forced on a state."

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