Casino "Idea" Is Misguided Tactic

April 11, 2007
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One of the qualities of the Grand Rapids community is the thoughtful and deliberate dialogue and debate given to issues, especially those that have economic impact. Such discussions are sometimes seemingly over-extended, but there are few questions unanswered when the private and public entities embark on urban renewal, plans for an arena or the process of building a life sciences cornerstone into the economic landscape.

The activity of the past month, however, appears contrary to thoughtful consideration, much of it borne of frustration or knee-jerk reaction to decreasing city budget revenues. That does not bode well for Grand Rapids or the metro area.

The potential of selling city parking lots to raise money for city government and the concept of building a casino downtown both have a multitude of long-term consequences, but for purposes here we concentrate on the latter, for now.

The casino idea is currently proffered by a single individual (not a group, or public or private entities). This “thinking-out-loud” approach to economic development is dangerous and without precedent. Indeed, the “concept” may not be intended for public review, but only to create another stalling mechanism for the eventuality of the Gun Lake Tribe casino in Wayland.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has already signed a compact with the tribe, but legislators must approve it. The issue with the compact most identified as a “problem” is that of the tribe’s exclusivity in a nine-county area, though that is far smaller a geographic area of exclusivity than any other tribal casinos enjoy in Michigan.

Any discussion of a Grand Rapids casino, owned and operated by private and public entities, is moot and a waste of time. There are other points to consider. It is illegal. The private Detroit casino investors deliberately established state law in 1996 stipulating that private casinos would only be allowed in cities with a population of 800,000 or more. It is ludicrous to believe they would support any change. Further, a Grand Rapids casino would require state-wide ballot approval from Michigan voters, an initiative conservatively estimated to cost $30 million.

Granholm’s legal counsel on Indian affairs has deemed the compact negotiated by the governor to be a model for the eventual compact renewals in 2013.

This is not intended as comment in regard to casinos in general or, at this time, in regard to the compact signed by the governor, but to note that the emperor in this “story” has no clothes.  

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