Muskegon Casino Rolls Toward Vote

August 22, 2003
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MUSKEGON — An affirmative vote next month would only begin what would likely become a lengthy and perhaps difficult process toward bringing casino gambling to Muskegon.

If voters show their support for the idea in a special advisory vote scheduled for Sept. 9, it would merely send "a strong message across the board" that the electorate is open to considering casino gambling and would allow city leaders to begin exploring the idea in earnest, backers of the ballot question argue.

"We're a long way from a casino," said Norm Cunningham of Yes Muskegon, a ballot committee formed to advocate support for the advisory question that was brought forward by a group of businessmen who envision developing an Indian gaming casino along Muskegon Lake, adjacent to downtown.

Actual development of a casino, even if voters back the idea, is likely years away and would come only after a lengthy public process to secure state and federal approval for an Indian-run casino, he said.

"This vote is about your right to allow a casino proposal to come forward," Cunningham said during a recent luncheon of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce's Women's Division where he and the chief opponent to the question offered their views. "It gives you the right to make a determination."

What backers of the ballot question envision is an 80,000-square-foot Indian-run casino built on acreage surrounding the Shoreline Inn & Suites along Muskegon Lake, plus substantial spin-off development nearby consisting of restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment venues such as a water park and convention center.

Cunningham cited the potential spin-off development as the primary driver of the push by the Archimedes Group, a coalition of local businessmen, to bring casino gambling to Muskegon. A casino and the peripheral development would help to revitalize the downtown business district, as well as create up to 1,000 jobs, by creating a year-round attraction, he said.

Supporters of the ballot question believe a casino can combine with numerous other development and redevelopment projects in and around downtown to create a thriving business and entertainment district and "help sustain the growth of the city of Muskegon," he said.

"This is just one more opportunity," Cunningham said. "All of these things can help bring downtown Muskegon back. We think a casino can be one of the answers with all of the other things."

But opponents of bringing casino gambling to Muskegon say all the other things are fine with them and enough to bring back the downtown area.

Dave Wallerup of the group Positively Muskegon contends that adding a casino to the mix in Muskegon would interfere with rather than aid the progress the community has made in recent years in revitalizing downtown.

When the social costs are figured into the equation, "the casino is literally more trouble than it is worth," Wallerup said.

"A casino will do more to interfere with that progress than promote it," he said. "This is a jewel on the lakeshore and it certainly doesn't need more problems."

In its opposition, Positively Muskegon raises concerns about social problems such as higher crime rates and the effects of compulsive gambling on some people and families, although backers of the ballot question counter that such claims are unfounded and overstated. 

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