Flipping The Cards

July 23, 2007
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Most of last week, 23 is Enough, the Political Action Committee leading the West Michigan-based opposition of the Gun Lake Casino, believed that it had enough state legislators in its camp to defeat any resolution to support the compact Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed with the Gun Lake Tribe in March to allow Class III gaming at its proposed casino in Bradley.

So it was quite a surprise when a resolution was introduced with 57 members of the House as co-signing sponsors, as referenced in today’s page 1 story.

“Our last survey of the House showed us we had a working majority,” said John Helmholdt, spokesman for Grand Rapids public relations firm Strategic Communications Group, which operates the PAC. “It would appear some people lied.”

Among the co-sponsors of the resolution was Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, one of seven Democrats who co-signed a letter to Granholm in 2004 opposing the Gun Lake Casino, and five others who had indicated clear opposition to the casino in 23 is Enough’s latest survey of legislators: Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch; Rep. George Cushingberry, D-Detroit; Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing; Rep. Gino Polidori, D-Dearborn; and Rep. Coleman Young, D-Detroit. Although she did not respond to the group’s last survey, 23 is Enough believed that Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, also opposed the Gun Lake Casino.

Speaker Pro Tempore Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, the highest ranking West Michigan State Representative and the highest ranking legislator still a member of 23 is Enough, contends that the governor — and now many of his fellow Representatives — are acting under the belief that the casino could move forward with Class III gaming without state approval and that, at the least, a Class II casino was imminent. Regardless of its current momentum, the MichGo court case has yet to be resolved.

Helmholdt wholeheartedly agreed: “The tribe has supporters and they are going to try to move a resolution forward, but we think they’re acting prematurely. There is still a lawsuit under review by the court, and it’s only there because the court determined that it could still prevail.”

A conclusion of that case might be a year or more away.

“But with that said, if this is moving forward, we need to make sure they’re paying their fair share of taxes,” Sak said. “I am not satisfied with the current compact.”

The Gun Lake Casino compact is in many ways superior to the compacts negotiated by Gov. John Engler in 1993 that legalized casinos for seven tribes in Michigan. All but one of the original seven tribes stopped those payments by 1999 as the state opened up gaming to an additional four tribes, and later the three Detroit casinos.

Those four tribes have since stopped paying as well, claiming the state lottery’s new Club Keno game infringed on their deal. The state has sued to force the tribes to turn over the money. The case is pending.

The Gun Lake Casino compact shares a larger percentage — 8 percent to 12 percent of its slot machine revenues to the state, depending on gross revenue, and 2 percent to local governments — and limits its exclusivity zone to only nine counties.

Sak believes the exclusivity clause should be removed in its entirety, and has urged House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-RedfordTownship, to pursue new compacts for the existing casinos before approving the Gun Lake Casino compact. He also pointed to a handful of states that had negotiated much larger revenue-sharing agreements than the Gun Lake Casino compact. Dillon’s office has not announced a position on the resolution other than that it was not currently a priority to bring the resolution to the house floor.

The compact must also be approved by the State Senate. On Wednesday, Matt Marsden, press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester Hills, indicated that discussions of a resolution were underway, but a decision had yet to be made on “where and how best to proceed.”

Earlier in the summer, Sen. Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood, told the Business Journal he had similar concerns about the compact.

“We need to ensure that we’re able to at least get some revenue from the casinos,” he said. “That exclusivity clause — even if it’s just for the region — is a weakness.”

In a prepared statement, Tribe Vice Chairman John Shagonaby said, “After six years of playing by the rules, the tribe is still asking for the same thing: fairness.”

Coincidentally, the tribe will release a survey it commissioned through research firm Public Opinion Strategies of Virginia, the Western Michigan Gaming Survey. Similar to a study conducted in conjunction with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2005, the study found overwhelming support for the tribe and casino among area voters.

A full 71 percent of voters surveyed supported the compact, 71 percent support Class III gaming at the casino, and a smaller majority, 58 percent, indicated that MichGo should drop its lawsuit.

A majority of respondents also indicated that 23 is Enough, (available online at 23-is-Enough.org) had lost some credibility with the withdrawal of former Ambassador Peter Secchia from the group and his newfound, very public enthusiasm for a competing downtown casino.

  • If you want to get your motor running and are looking for some adventure (or whatever comes your way), then Saturday is your day. Rockford Construction is holding its 8th annual Rally for Hope and Hunger then, with all proceeds from the motorcycle ride and party going to God’s Kitchen and the Van Andel Institute.

The daylong event gets underway at at Cannonsburg Ski Lodge, where the bikers will head to the DeltaPlex for food, beer, live music by Mid-Life Crisis, Trevor Matthews, Hal Ketchum, and Pure Prairie League, and chances to win some expensive stuff including a $20,000 Harley-Davidson hog.

The event is open to the public and is co-sponsored by WLAV. The Rockford rally rides have raised more than $400,000 since company founders John Wheeler and Michael Van Gessel took off the event’s training wheels in 1999.    

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