MichGo Speaks Out On Casino Progressions
MOLINE — Beginning with the first contentious public debate over a tribal casino in Allegan County at Wayland High School seven years ago, Michigan Gambling Opposition President Todd Boorsma has been a consistent face in the region’s anti-gambling efforts.
Boorsma, an unpaid activist and general manager of Millbrook Tack and Trailer in Bryon Center, was not able to be reached for comments during the course of this month’s series of stories examining the potential impact of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians’ proposed $250 million Gun Lake Casino in Wayland Township. He sat for an interview with the Business Journal early last week.
Business Journal: Oral arguments were heard earlier this month in federal appeals court on MichGo’s challenge of the government’s plan to take the former Ampro manufacturing facility into trust on behalf of the tribe for its casino. In light of everything that has happened, how confident are you in the outcome?
Boorsma: The federal government found that no significant impact would occur with the opening of a casino in Allegan County, and we feel very, very strongly against that. Not only does it create family problems that lead to crime and so on, there is the municipal and environmental parts of it, with the road improvements that they have not opted to pay for, the compromising of the road that the Ampro building sits on that they are going to change and widen, and they didn’t address the highway off-ramp.
Didn’t the MichGo lawyers concede the environmental argument?
That still doesn’t mean that it’s not valid. Whether you are for or against the casino, you can’t say there is not going to be a significant impact. The Bureau of Indian Affairs pushes these things through because they are on the side of the tribes. It’s been that way since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was introduced; they’ve been greased right through and there is no stopping them. We don’t feel that that is right, and that is why we’re standing up against them.
How is MichGo different from other organizations that launched similar campaigns against tribal casinos in New Buffalo and elsewhere?
We’re the only ones to defeat a resolution asking the governor for a compact. It was the only time anyone can remember that the majority and minority leader were for a compact and it failed. Then they came back and passed it in the lame duck session. Still, Gov. (John) Engler at the time did not sign it. The biggest difference is that (the other tribes) have a compact and this one does not.
The governor signed a compact last spring.
The compact has to go before the House and Senate before it’s valid. Engler referenced that the state does not have to negotiate based on its sovereign immunity. A state has never been forced to sign a compact, and that is the only argument the tribe has been using. The legislators that have turned in the House have turned because they say, ‘Well, if we don’t negotiate, we’ll have to anyway and then we won’t get any of the money.’ And that’s totally not true; that was just challenged in Texas and the state won.
You don’t think the Senate will ratify the compact?
I feel pretty good about the Senate. We already have the resolution asking the Senate not to negotiate. We have the letter from previous Gov. Engler stating that this would be the final four and there will be no more. Yet they still keep coming back and coming back.
The thing driving this engine is money. It’s coming from Las Vegas and (Gun Lake Casino investor and management firm) Station Casinos. They are simply trying to expand their boundaries and suck money out of Michigan and bring it to Las Vegas.
By federal law, there is a seven-year limitation on that operating agreement.
They will suck out a whole lot during that seven. And who will manage it after that? The tribe isn’t going to manage it.
That’s not my understanding.
Federal law is what it is, but if you look at casinos in Connecticut and California, they have been taking money for more than seven years. The tribes don’t have a lot of money. They give them all this money and they make deals. Do you think they are going to spend millions and billions of dollars and not make a huge profit? They’re not doing this for the betterment of the tribe; they’re doing this to get richer than they already are.
There is a reason why casinos are illegal. The addiction leads to crime, bankruptcy, corruption, divorce, domestic violence and so on. The IGRA was never intended to be manipulated the way it is. It needs to be changed, and we feel the longer we hold this off, the more time it gives for that to happen.
How do you feel that tribal gaming has been manipulated?
When this started at the Wayland High School gym, the Gun Lake Band said they had 80 members. How can it be reasonable for an 80-member group to need a multi-billion dollar casino development to support its economic needs?
Do you think the only reason the tribe sought federal recognition was for gaming money?
I don’t think so. I believe it was originally to better the tribe for educational purposes, and there are a lot of good tools out there that the federal government makes available for tribes. When (Tribe Chairman D.K.) Sprague took over, that was his main deal. He has been pushing it hard.
You referenced that first meeting at Wayland High School. The pro-tribe group Friends of the Gun Lake Indians claims it was formed as a response to the inappropriate actions of MichGo and other casino opponents at that meeting.
We weren’t even a group yet. We were just a bunch of local people. I think that stems from the old P.R. group that used to represent the tribe. They tried to get something going about how we went into that meeting and blah, blah, blah. That was all hogwash; we weren’t even a group at that time. We just showed up and we were kind of surprised ourselves by all the people that came because it was the opening day of deer season in Allegan County.
Our original group was West Michigan Gambling Opposition and that didn’t organize until two or three months after that meeting. Everyone that got up signed a sheet of notebook paper and from there we started to organize.
I went up late and challenged the township. It turned into a big thing; people kind of rallied and asked me to lead it. I didn’t know it would be a 10-year deal. I went toe-to-toe with the lobbyist and the township supervisor at the time. There was a big write-up in the paper and that was the spark.
The tribe’s P.R. group has said it’s a prejudice thing. Noel Laporte (the tribe’s lobbyist) had a scuffle with somebody toward the end, but it was just him and some guy arguing about something. It was one citizen that was very, very upset, and he said some things.
There were a couple of citizens that said some things, but that is freedom of speech and they can say what they want. But it wasn’t MichGo or West Michigan Gambling Opposition that said it because we weren’t even formed yet.
I can’t control what every person in the community says, but if they are saying prejudicial statements, that goes against what MichGo is about.
Has MichGo lobbied against any other gaming efforts?
No. We feel our time and money is best spent against the Gun Lake venture because it is the one we feel that we have the most opportunity to win. This is the roadblock; at last count there are six or seven other tribes seeking recognition with the sole intent of opening up against a casino. They’ve already got investment people, and one is the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians (see Street Talk). If we can’t stop this one, I strongly feel that that it will open the door to the other future tribes that are seeking federal recognition to get their casinos.
If the appeal isn’t successful, what’s the next step?
I don’t think pushing it to higher courts is out of the question. We’ll have to look at what our options are. This isn’t the highest court in land.
With 23 is Enough no longer a functioning PAC, has some of its lobbying efforts fallen to MichGo?
That’s a big yes. We’re calling people and making sure the word still gets out, although we have been doing that all along. It’s also falling on our state legislators. They are the ones that have been voted in, and they have to make it known to their fellow lawmakers that this is something that they need to vote against.