County Wont Play On Gaming Issue

June 13, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — While the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority fervently oppose a casino that has been proposed for Wayland Township, Kent County has adopted a more passive position by deciding not to take a stand on the gaming house planned for Allegan County.

The county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee unanimously agreed last week to remain neutral on the casino being offered by the Gun Lake Band of Potawatomi Indians, a move that supported a recommendation from a casino subcommittee assembled by Kent County Commission Chairman David Morren.

In arriving at its recommendation, the subcommittee wondered exactly whom it would influence if it took a stand, because most area lawmakers have already expressed their feelings on the issue. Panel members also reported they weren’t able to find a “known measurable impact” that a casino would have on county government, and that county commissioners have typically not taken a stance on an issue not directly related to the government.

The subcommittee met a total of three times in March, April and May to review data and hear testimony on the matter. County commissioners Jack Horton, Paul Mayhue and Ted Vonk served on the panel, while commissioner Dan Koorndyk chaired the group.

“Subcommittee members also believe that, through comments made by various commissioners, there is no consensus on this matter and that a split vote is a likely outcome, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of any position statement coming from the Board of Commissioners,” wrote Koorndyk in a memo to the committee.

Koorndyk added a split vote could, in turn, “have a negative impact on a future legislative position the board might take on an issue that does not have a direct impact on Kent County government.”

But Commissioner Dean Agee said the county had “a dog in this fight.” He felt if the county took a position on the casino it would have influence with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Lansing lawmakers, and he feared a nearby casino could negatively affect tourism here and leave the county with fewer hotel/motel tax dollars in the future.

Through the Community Partnership for Economic Growth, a nonprofit organization the chamber set up to fight the casino, GRACC has said the casino would cost Kent County businesses — largely those involved in travel, food and lodging — $50 million annually in lost revenue. The chamber hired the Anderson Economic Group of Lansing to analyze the economic impact the gaming house would have on four counties, a study that reported only Allegan County would benefit from the casino.

The Allegan County Chamber of Commerce strongly disagreed with that analysis for a variety of reasons, while the tribe has reported the casino would generate 4,300 jobs. The Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce, like Kent County, has chosen to remain neutral on the issue. The Anderson report estimated that Kalamazoo County would lose $4 million each year to the casino.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is deciding whether the property the tribe has selected for the casino, the former Ampro Industries site, can be placed in a trust. The Gun Lake Band is the only tribe in Michigan without a gaming compact.           

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