Friday, June 15, 2007

Congressional Testimony: Team owners get rich off taxpayers subsidies; while taxpayers see little net return

From official testimony given in

the U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Domestic Policy,
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

March 29, 2007

Frank D. Rashid

“…In selling these projects to the public, local officials made plenty of promises about the benefits they would bring: new jobs, economic spin-off from stadium-related activities, contracts for minority firms, increased city revenues for more police and city services.

Not one of these promises has been fulfilled.

In the last two years, the city has hosted major league baseball’s All-Star Game, the Super Bowl, and the World Series, but city residents have seen no lasting benefits from these highly touted events. The city faces a financial crisis, with two consecutive years of deficit and has had to cut police and fire protection, library hours, and trash pickup among other city services.

Comerica Park and Ford Field have been in operation for six and four seasons respectively, but the blessings of major league sports have yet to rain down upon the people of Detroit. The owners of the two teams, on the other hand, have been blessed with dramatically increased franchise value.

They have also taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by the new stadiums to raise ticket prices.

In effect, we gave hundreds of millions of dollars to two billionaires so they could charge higher prices and become even wealthier. This is called urban development...

Full Text of Prepared Testimony

Ilitch behind campaign to stop state luxury tax/ticket surcharge proposal, the website for Detroit's Local4 NBC affiliate WDIV, reports the following:

Local Business Leaders Say No To New Tax

Local business leaders are fighting to stop the new tax plan that will charge people to purchase tickets for sports, entertainment and other luxury items.

Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and other venues like the Fox Theatre and Bill Davidson, who owns the Detroit Pistons and several concert venues launched a Web site to get you to speak out about the tax.

Opponents to the tax said it unfairly burdens Detroit, the biggest concert and sports venue area in the state.

According to lawmakers, the luxury tax would bring in an estimated $100 million into the state,

from Ansar Khan's Red Wings Bulletin blog at
"It wasn’t too surprising to see empty seats at Joe Louis Arena in the first round against Calgary, considering the state of the economy in Michigan, the high ticket prices and the team’s string of early playoff exits...Obviously, they miscalculated in setting ticket prices for the playoffs. There’s nothing they can do about it now, but, unless the Wings win the Stanley Cup, they’re going to have to lower ticket prices next season, especially in the playoffs."

ranks Mike Ilitch at #242 (tied with Oprah Winfrey) on its annual list of the "400 Richest Americans."

Ilitch receives $600,000 "Brownfield" tax credit for Detroit Life Building rehab

Michigan business briefs
June 15, 2007

DEVELOPMENT: Brownfield credit OK'd

Plans by the Ilitch family to redevelop the historic but dilapidated Detroit Life building near the Fox Theatre took a big step forward Thursday.

Detroit's Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-public arm of the city, approved a $600,000 brownfield tax credit to help pay to clean up the building at 2210 Park Ave. The credit will cover approximately 10% of the estimated $6-million cost of the renovation work.

The brownfield credit is just one piece of a financial package that also will include historical tax credits as well as conventional investment.

Ilitch Holdings, the family's business entity, plans to move some of its subsidiary functions into the building once the renovation work is complete. Plans call for the first floor to contain retail or commercial space, while Floors 2 through 10 would contain office space.

Construction is expected to begin this summer.

Crews from J.C. Beal Demolition had reportedly been managing asbestos removal last fall. Kraemer Design Group have been retained to develop renovation plans.

Official website: Detroit Life Building
Buildings of Detroit: Detroit Building
Wikipedia: Detroit Building

EPA Brownfields Definition

Brownfields: With certain legal exclusions and additions, the term `brownfield site' means real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mashpee Wampanoag backers initiated gambling in Detroit but were never licensed

Several of the cental characters involved in the Mashpee Wampanoag deal in Middleborough, Massachusetts have roots in the birth of Detroit's commercial gambling industry.

Herb Strather and Laurence Deitch (Larry Deitch) were early backers of commercial gaming in Detroit. They were members in Atwater Entertainment Associates LLC, an entity that was, through other affiliates, part owner of Detroit Entertainment LLC (d/b/a MotorCity Casino). However, for undisclosed reasons the pair along with several other intial "investors" were forced to divest themselves of interest in MotorCity Casino.

Here's how one media outlet summed it up:

The sale of shares by at least four partners in the MotorCity Casino was approved Monday by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

The action could clear the way for the casino to open by mid-December.

Although the board discussed the sale in a closed session and would not divulge details about the sales, people familiar with the sales said those selling their shares include:

Herb Strather, one of the founding partners of Atwater Entertainment, which pushed for casinos in Detroit for at least the past six years.

Nellie Varner, Strather's business partner for 20 years, former treasurer of Mayor Dennis Archer's mayoral campaign and fellow founder of Atwater Entertainment.

Mike Malik, a partner in North American Gaming, which manages a casino for an Indian tribe in Manistee.

Larry Deitch, a University of Michigan regent and the lawyer who wrote Proposal E, the 1996 ballot measure that state voters passed to authorize casinos.

Malik, Varner and Strather are members of the 12-member management committee of the casino. All three were instrumental in pushing to get casinos in Detroit.

The three plan to sell their shares after gaming board investigators told them there were problems with their applications for gaming licenses, people familiar with the situation said.

The board has been investigating the MotorCity Casino group for more than a year.

Tangled Web: Malik's alleged mistress admits she committed perjury to shield his assets in divorce proceedings

TVT has obtained Oakland County, MI court documents and more indicating the wife of veteran NBA Player Clifford Robinson (New Jersey Nets) brought a lawsuit suit nearly a year ago against 53-year old Michael J. Malik, Sr.

Heather Lufkins Robinson (a 36-year old who married Robinson in Sept. 2003 and gave birth to their twin sons in 2005) brought suit against defendants Michael Malik, Sr. and his JR Property Holdings, LLC, claiming she held an interest in property owned by JR Property Holdings, LLC located at 1907 W. Houstonia Ave., Royal Oak, MI 48073-3915. The property was previously held by MJM Royal Properties (a Malik controlled entity formed in May 2001).

Lufkins-Robinson alleges she became romantically involved with defendant Michael Malik, Sr. while he was married to another woman (Michele M. Malik – aka Michele Resseguie, Michele Flaum, Michele Flaum-Malik). During that time, the plaintiff moved into a home the defendant had reportedly purchased for his son (from an earlier marriage), 25-year old Michael Malik, Jr. Father and son had formed JR Property Holdings, LLC in August 2001, three months after Malik Sr. established MJM Royal Properties. Malik Sr. signed the annual corporate filing for JR Property Holdings in January 2002 as “manager” of the entity.

During Malik Sr.’s divorce proceedings, Ms. Lufkins-Robinson had testified that Malik Jr. owned the Royal Oak property. At that time, she also signed a handwritten statement before a notary declaring that "Michael Malik owes me nothing and never did."

However, Ms. Lufkins-Robinson obviously decided to come clean a year ago and commenced a lawsuit alleging she was entitled to the property. (sidenote: The NBA suspended Clifford Robinson for five days without pay on drug related charges in May 2006).

In her 2006 complaint, Ms. Lufkins-Robinson admitted her testimony at the Maliks' earlier divorce proceeding was a "scam" to help shield Michael Malik’s assets; and she attached to her 2006 complaint a handwritten letter allegedly signed by defendant Malik Sr., which stated the home was to be given to the her.

Unfortunately for Ms. Lufkins-Robinson, the Oakland County Circuit Court Judge, furious at the games being played, ruled that a plaintiff who perjured herself in a prior proceeding may not later institute a cause of action that conflicts with the previous false testimony and tossed out Ms. Lufkins-Robinson's claim.

In some odd way, it seems the former Mrs. Malik and Ms. Lufkins-Robinson were both victims in this so-called Malik “scam.” Court records reveal, at the end of the day, Mike Malik Sr. and his attorneys were quite pleased with themselves.

Heather Lufkins Robinson is the daughter of L. John Lufkins, a former chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community. Reportedly Michael Malik and the Ilitch Family have been bankrolling plans for a Bay Mills Indian Casino in Port Huron, among other locales, for more than a dozen years. John Lufkins was tribal chairman when former Governor John Engler signed a land claims settlement agreement that was intended to pave the way for a Port Huron Casino.

There was conjecture in 1999 that one reason perhaps Michael J. Malik, Sr. wouldn't qualify for a gaming license in Detroit was an earlier arrest on domestic assault charges. In 1997, Malik was arrested and served a years probation on charges he beat up the 12-year old son of a girlfriend; a woman whom he subsequently married and then divorced -- Michele M. Malik (aka Michele Flaum-Malik); the same woman whom it now appears may have been "scammed" in divorce proceedings.

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Former MotorCity investor Celani opens Okla. casino


Local businessman Tom Celani, a former investor in MotorCity Casino L.L.C., has opened a casino in Carnegie, Okla., in conjunction with the Kiowa Tribe.

The 65,000-square-foot Kiowa Red River Casino features about 1,000 slot machines and more than 20 table games and includes three restaurants.

Red River is expected to generate $70 million in gross revenue in its first 12 months of operation, with the tribe expecting to receive net profit of $100 million in five years, Celani, of Bloomfield Hills, said in a statement. His company Luna Gaming provided financing for the casino.

Celani’s other casino interests are in Rolling Hills Casino, Corning, Calif.; Little River Casino, Manistee; Red Dolly Casino, Black Hawk, Colo.; and Cal Neva Casino, Lake Tahoe, Nev. He also owns MotorCity Harley Davidson in Farmington Hills.

— Robert Ankeny

Tom Celani, Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik collectively held 85% interest in Atwater Casino Group (ACG), a collection of Detroit area business leaders who had backed the proposal for three casinos in Detroit.

In 1997, ACG joined together with Circus Circus (later Mandalay Resort Group) to form Detroit Entertainment LLC (DELLC), the company behind MotorCity Casino (a DELLC d/b/a). Celani, Ilitch and Malik collectivelyheld a 35% stake in MotorCity Casino.

In 1999, before MotorCity Casino even opened, several of the ACG local shareholders were disqualified from receiving gaming licenses or otherwise forced to sell their shares including Herb Strather, Nellie Varner, Walter Douglas, Laurence Deitch, James Blain, Ronald Slavic and Malik. All but Malik sold their interests to Mandalay Resort Group.

Malik sold his shares to Ilitch and Celani because the Michigan Gaming Control Board wouldn't grant him a license. Ilitch retained 25% of MotorCity and Celani 10%.

Early in 2005, Ilitch opened negotiations with Mandalay Resort Group and MGM/Mirage to acquire their 53.5% interest in MotorCity Casino; Celani lead the other investors behind ACG and filed suit in February 2005 alleging Marian Ilitch had violated the terms of their partnership agreement by secretly and unilaterally negotiating a deal to purchase Mandalay's stake in the gaming hall. Several months later, the parties settled and Ilitch acquired all outstanding shares of Detroit Entertainment LLC to take 100% control of MotorCity Casino.

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Attorney Dennis Whittlesey to advise Mass. town on casino

About 600 people gathered outside Middleborough High School yesterday for a meeting on a proposed casino. (VINCE DEWITT FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

By Christine Wallgren, Globe Correspondent June 14, 2007

MIDDLEBOROUGH -- As residents voiced concerns about having a casino in town, selectmen voted last night to hire a lawyer well known in gaming circles to help them negotiate potential contracts with the Mashpee Wampanoags.

The presence of the lawyer, Dennis Whittlesey, at last night's meeting seemed to calm some residents, who were worried that the town was rushing into a pact without weighing citizen concerns.

Whittlesey applauded the town's attempt to work with the tribe.

"Frankly, once the land goes into trust, there is no obligation for the tribe to work with the community," he said. "It's a tremendous advantage to work on an agreement and walk together with the tribe to the secretary of the interior," who reviews applications to put land into federal trust and thereby remove it from state and local control.

Whittlesey, of the Washington, D.C. firm of Dickinson Wright, was invited to the meeting by Selectman Adam Bond. Whittlesey agreed to help fine-tune a recently produced draft agreement between the town and the tribe for a casino, a process he estimated would take about four weeks.

Officials did not indicate what he would be paid, but they recently got Town Meeting approval for $60,000 for casino-related negotiations... (Full Story)

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Middleborough selectmen to vote on hosting Indian casino

The Mashpee Wampanoags meet with Middleborough selectmen tonight to discuss building a casino resort in the southeastern Massachusetts town. The Cape Cod tribe will present local officials with a draft agreement in which the town agrees to host an Indian casino in exchange for $7 million a year over the next ten years. Payment in lieu of taxes.

read more | digg story

Historic Tiger Stadium one step closer to being demolished


Detroit EDC OKs plan to tear down Tiger Stadium

By Aaron Harris

The Detroit Economic Development Corp.’s board approved a plan Thursday to demolish Tiger Stadium.

The board approved the project pending approval from the Detroit City Council. The EDC plans to present its plan to the council in July.

The plan calls for most of the 95-year-old stadium to be demolished to redevelop the site into a mixed-use retail and residential property. The estimated cost is $2.95 million.

To finance the project, the plan calls for Schneider Industries, a St. Louis auction company, to sell stadium memorabilia including seats and locker-room items. If the plan is approved by City Council, Schneider Industries would set up a Web-based memorabilia auction.

“The plan is to tear down the structure and sell the steel,” said Peter Zeiler, EDC business development representative. “But we also want to make sure that we keep some the historic aspects of the stadium in Detroit.”

Zeiler said one of those aspects includes keeping the baseball field for youth baseball leagues.

Ambassador Bridge is ...


Bridges Falling Down

The bridge is owned and operated by the minions of one man, a reclusive Grosse Pointe zillionaire

by Jack Lessenberry

Gregg Ward is a boyish-looking 46-year-old with an interesting and crucial job you've probably never heard of. He and his dad run the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, which since 1990 has been the only approved system for taking trucks carrying hazardous materials across this part of the U.S.-Canada border.

That doesn't mean the Wards take all the hazmat across. They don't. Their one barge is only allowed to operate 10 hours a day. In that time they might transport, at most, 50 trucks.

Meanwhile, something like 9,000 trucks use the Ambassador Bridge daily. Naturally, since they aren't taking Gregg's barge, does that mean they are all hauling frozen spinach and motor mounts? Well, hardly.

Plenty of them carry hazmat too.

You see, the bridge, as noted here on March 7, is not, as you might expect, jointly owned by the two nations. They don't even have any say in running it. Instead, it is owned and operated by the minions of one man, a reclusive Grosse Pointe zillionaire named Manuel "Matty" Moroun.

He believes that he is a law unto himself, at least as far as the bridge is concerned. He doesn't allow either country to inspect it. He does what he wants. "He issues letters to those trucks he owns, and perhaps some others, saying they can take hazmat across," Ward said over lunch in Dearborn. Others have told me the same thing. "I get the leftovers — his competitors, maybe."

That may not be fair, but nobody in authority seems to be willing to challenge the man Forbes Magazine called "The troll under the bridge." (Full Story)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Firm produced valuation of Malik's interest in MotorCity Casino for use in court

from the website of Christiansen Capital Advisors, LLC on the firm's "Background and Experience:"

Litigation Support
Valuation of Motor City Casino as of September 6, 1997
(Michael J. Malik Sr. v. Michelle Flaum-Malik)

Engagement with Ehrlich Foley & Serwer, P.C. included:
  • Formed an opinion of the value of the interest Ehrlich’s client held in the entity that became Motor City Casino during the period 1997-1999, prior to and after the investor divested himself of this interest through its sale.

  • Value the interest Ehrlich’s client held in the entity that became Motor City Casino at the time the investor divested himself of this interest through its sale.

  • Project included expert report and signatory on opinion letter.
    (Deposition taken of Eugene Christiansen.) Settled.
Joseph H. Ehrlich
Ehrlich Foley & Serwer, P.C.
Wabeek Building
280 West Maple Road, Suite 310
Birmingham, Michigan 48009-3344
Voice: (248) 540-0100

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Tribe offers Mass. town $70 million over next ten years


Mashpees Will Offer Mass. Town $7M A Year
Middleborough selectmen to vote on hosting Indian casino

By Rodrique Ngowi
Associated Press Writer

Boston — The Mashpee Wampanoags will present Middleborough selectmen with a draft agreement in which the town agrees to host an Indian casino in exchange for $7 million dollars annually, over the next 10 years, a tribal spokesman said Monday.

Tribal elders will present the draft host agreement Wednesday night. The two sides settled on the principles of the draft deal during negotiations that began six weeks ago, and the draft fleshes out details of the proposal, Wampanoag spokesman Scott Ferson said.

The Mashpee Wampanoags received federal recognition as a tribe on Feb. 15. The federal status became official May 23. Under federal law, Indian tribes cannot be taxed, and the $7 million annual payment to Middleborough is supposed to be payment in lieu of taxes.

That is equivalent to about quarter of property taxes currently being collected by the town, and about 10 percent of Middleborough's budget, said tribal spokeswoman Amy Lambiaso.

The Middleborough town manager did not immediately return repeated calls for comment.

Under the proposal, casino developers agreed to meet the cost of improvements in water, sewer, roadway and other infrastructure. They also will pay for any increase in police, fire and emergency services related to the casino, Ferson said.

Those costs are expected to run between $80-150 million, he said.

In exchange, town officials will be required to support the casino proposal in upcoming talks with state and federal officials. This includes petitioning the Department of Interior to place the Wampanoag land in Middleborough in federal trust for its members. The tribe currently owns 375 acres of land in the town.

Under the proposed agreement, town officials also will be obliged to help casino developers negotiate with Massachusetts officials a deal that would exempt the project from the current prohibition against slot machines.

“With the approval of this agreement — should it happen — the town and the tribe would be partners moving forward with the petition to take the land into trust,” Ferson said.

Wampanoag representatives also are negotiating with New Bedford town officials to set up economic projects in the area.

“The conversations with New Bedford have been much more far-reaching than just a casino. There have been a whole list of economic development opportunities, and they will continue,” Ferson said. “Manufacturing and aquaculture have been two (proposals) that have come up.”

“Indian tribes across the country did do a host of manufacturing concerns — everything from defense subcontracting to operating Free Trade Zones,” he said.

Secretary Kempthorne true to form hasn't approved Catskills casino


Catskill casino a waiting game
By Victor Whitman

Times Herald-Record

Monticello — It's been nearly five months since Gov. Eliot Spitzer OK'd a Catskill casino, in what many saw as a watershed moment.

Now, five months later, the paperwork is ready to go, but still no word from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on whether he'll approve the St. Regis Mohawk casino at Monticello Gaming & Raceway.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs completed its review more than a month ago.

"Governor Spitzer has spoken on several occasions to Secretary Kempthorne, and he'll continue to press the secretary for his approval," Spitzer's spokeswoman, Christine Pritchard, said. "The conversations were substantive in nature, including the governor's explanation as to why the casino would benefit both the tribe and New York state."

Kempthorne is touring Guam and other American possessions in the Pacific. Spitzer is planning another call when Kempthorne returns this week.

"The Tribe has remained confident and optimistic ," the Mohawks said in a statement yesterday. "We are hopeful approval is in fact imminent."

BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said that the paperwork is now on the desk of James Cason, a top Interior official who is regarded by the Mohawks and casino supporters in Congress as friendly to the project. He will make a recommendation to the secretary. But Kempthorne opposes off-reservation casinos, concerned that if he approves one, he must approve them all.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer says he doesn't have a good sense of what Kempthorne will do. Kempthorne still must agree to take just less than 30 acres of land into trust. With roughly 30 applications pending across the country for off-reservation casinos, Schumer fears Kempthorne might take no action, delaying the decision for at least another 18 months.

"There will be little to gauge the process at this point until the final call is made," said Charlie Degliomini, a vice president with Empire Resorts, owners of the Raceway.

"This application is under active and imminent consideration. From our perspective, failure is not an option."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cahuilla traditional territory was south of the San Bernardino Mountains

from the Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Draft PEIR, February 14, 2007:

click map for larger image

The Cahuilla territory was near the geographic center of Southern California. It was bounded to the north by the San Bernardino Mountains, to the south by Borrego Springs and the Chocolate Mountains, to the east by the Colorado Desert, and to the west by the San Jacinto Plain and the eastern slopes of the Palomar Mountains (Bean, 1978).

The Cahuilla used a wide range of wild resources, such as acorns and piñon nuts, deer, desert bighorn sheep, rabbits, fish, and quail. The Cahuilla settlements were generally located at high elevations in well-watered canyons or on fans near streams and springs and at lower elevations near natural springs (Moratto, 1984). The Cahuilla had well-developed trade networks with neighboring Serrano, and Diegueño groups and cultivated corn, beans, squashes, and melons (Bean,1978).

The Cupeño occupied a small mountainous area about 10 miles in diameter at the headway of San Luis Rey River (Bean and Smith, 1978a). The Cupeño used a wide range of wild resources, such as acorns and piñon nuts, deer, desert bighorn sheep, rabbits, fish, and quail.

The historic village of Cupa, also called Warner Springs Ranch or Agua Caliente Village, is located east of Lake Henshaw on State Highway 79 near Warner Springs, California. The 200 acre (0.8 km²) Cupeño Indian village site is now abandoned, but evidence of its historical importance remains. The beautiful valley of Agua Caliente in which the village was situated lies at an altitude of 3,000 feet (1000 m), and is home for many kinds of wildlife, native shrubs, grass, and evergreen oaks.

NOTE: over the years, Lowell Bean has been a frequent scholarly collaborator with Catherine Siva Saubel, currently Spokeswoman for the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians of the Los Coyotes Reservation. Saubel is a resident of the Morongo Reservation in Riverside County and founder and Chairwoman of the Malki Museum at Morongo.

Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians makes its home on the southernmost of Cahuilla Reservations

click map for larger view

Today there are nine reservations in Southern California spanning Imperial, Riverside and San Diego counties that are home to bands of Cahuilla. They are: The Los Coyotes Reservation (home to both Cahuilla and Cupeno people) is the most southern of the nine Cahuilla reservations; located in north eastern San Diego County.

Wolman, Kerzner consortium purchase land for tribe's casino


Mass. Tribe's Casino Plans Escalate With Land Purchase
Wampanoags' Investors Buy 125-Acre Site For $1.76M

Day Staff Writer

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe moved a step closer to finding a site for its hoped-for resort casino Friday when its investors paid $1.76 million for 125 acres in Middleborough, Mass., a large town in the southeastern part of the state that calls itself the “cranberry capital of the world.”

The tribe's development partners — Len Wolman of the Waterford Group, South African investor Sol Kerzner and real estate developer Starwood Capital Group — have formed a consortium known as Trading Cove at Mashpee. The consortium bought the land before its option expired Friday, delivering a check to the town for the land, which the town had claimed for nonpayment of back taxes, tribal spokesman Scott Ferson said. (Full Story)

Wampanoag backers purchase 108 acres in Middleboro for casino


Wampanoags Finalize Land Deal
Panel Appointed To Study Issue

MIDDLEBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Wampanoag tribe's purchase of a possible casino site in Middleboro is a done deal.

The tribe's backer paid $1.8 million and the Wampanoags now control 108 acres of land, with an option to buy 220 more.

The tribe and abutting landowners haven't said much about future deals. Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall said he wants 1,000 acres for a casino.

Marshall also hasn't ruled out New Bedford as a possible casino site.

Casino gambling isn't legal in Massachusetts, but Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed a panel to study the issue.

Panoramic view from the Los Coyotes Reservation

click image to see larger panoramic view

A view from the 25,000 acre Los Coyotes Reservation in northern San Diego County. Open the panoramic view: to the lower right, the resort community of Warner Springs Ranch, once the Cupa Village home to the Cupeno Indians; in the upper left, you can see Lake Henshaw in the distance, less than 10 miles away. The Santa Ysabel casino is perched in the foothills overlooking Lake Henshaw. Within 40 miles of the Los Coyotes Reservation there are more than 20 Indian casinos.

Ilitch won't send money out of state or to an Indian tribe, she'll keep it at home


Your hometown casino? MotorCity emphasizes local connections in marketing

By Brent Snavely

MotorCity Casino officials and Ilitch family members want to position MotorCity as Detroit's “hometown casino,” with $275 million in expanded gambling and new hotel construction that more closely embraces the city's heritage than its two Detroit competitors.

Whether the strategy pays off, and catapults MotorCity to the city's highest-grossing casino over market leader MGM Grand Detroit Casino L.L.C., will become evident as the casinos report their monthly sales figures to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

For April MGM Grand reported casino revenue of $41 million, MotorCity reported $39.3 million and Greektown Casino L.L.C. reported
$30.1 million.

MotorCity's decision to go after the hometown casino image is smart, said Tim Smith, president of Royal Oak-based marketing and branding firm Skidmore Inc. The challenge will be for MotorCity to back up its claims to customers after they walk in the door.

Smith, who had not yet visited the new gambling addition of MotorCity that opened last week, predicts that the marketing message of each of Detroit's new or expanded casinos will be far more distinctive than in the past.

“I'm not a big gambler, but I've walked through all three ... and once you are inside, one could very easily be confused with the other,” Smith said.

MotorCity Casino opened its 60,000-square-foot expansion Thursday. Huntington Beach, Calif.-based auto designer Chip Foose served as design consultant and helped to inject elements from Detroit's automotive and musical past.

Marian Ilitch, co-founder of Little Caesars and vice chairwoman of Ilitch Holdings Inc., purchased MotorCity in April 2005. Detroit-based Ilitch Holdings includes the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment, Fox Theatre and the management of Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Arena.

During a VIP grand opening Tuesday, her son Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., said he is proud that the casino project boosts his family's investment in Detroit since the early 1980s to more than $660 million.

Those comments, along with MotorCity's new design and marketing elements, are part of coordinated effort to link MotorCity Casino to Detroit's automotive and entertainment culture and to brand it as Detroit's “hometown casino.”

“That's kind of a straw man argument,” said Bob Berg, partner with Detroit-based public-relations firm Berg Muirhead & Associates, which represents MGM Grand.

“For one, all of the MGM employees are from here. And over half the employees are residents of Detroit.”

While MGM is owned by Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage, Berg said its $765 million investment for its permanent location at the Lodge Freeway and Michigan Avenue dwarfs MotorCity's investment.

“MGM is the only one that has kept their original commitment to build a brand-new facility,” Berg said.

Greektown Casino, meanwhile, says it provides the greatest support to downtown Detroit.

“If you look at where the three casinos are located, only one is integrated in the downtown business district of Detroit,” said Roger Martin, a principal in Lansing-based Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians owns more than 90 percent of Greektown; several Detroit investors, including former deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner Marvin Beatty, own the remainder.

“In terms of any of the casinos that have really embraced and supported the downtown business community, I think that Greektown is clearly the one that has done that,” Martin said. “From day one ... Greektown has been 100 percent owned by Detroit and Michigan people.”

But MotorCity boasts that where ownership resides is important. “Marian Ilitch and her family have been reinvesting in the city of Detroit since 1959,” said Gregg Solomon, CEO of MotorCity. “The thing we are very, very proud of is the money we make here has continually gone back to the city of Detroit. We are not sending checks back to Las Vegas or to an Indian tribe. ... It stays here in Detroit.

Solomon said MotorCity has worked with renowned New York City-based Landor Associates since the 1990s as its branding consultant. Landor's goal is to ensure that all MotorCity's plans fit together into a single image.

Located at 2901 Grand River Ave., MotorCity casino is on the site of the former Wonder Bread bakery, built in 1915 by the Wagner Baking Co. A portion of it was restored to original condition.

“When it was time for us to proceed with our permanent facility we decided — rather than do what most casinos in Vegas would do, which is take dynamite and blow it up — we decided to restore part of the building,” Solomon said.

Inside, Solomon said Foose drew inspiration from concept cars designed in the 1940s and 1950s to create a “future retro” look for the casino.

A sweeping neon light that can change colors spans the center of the ceiling and is reminiscent of the giant tail fins and headlights of the cars of the time.

Elsewhere, the casino's wallpaper is made from the distorted image of a front grill of a car from the 1950s and the VIP valet area is lit by lights that are replicas of car lights from the era.

Other MotorCity Casino design elements play heavily on Detroit's musical and sports heritage.

The space that opened Thursday includes a broadcast studio. Still under construction are a recording studio, a theater and a sports bar.

“We have always fully embraced the thought that we are here operating in Detroit,” Solomon said. “We are not trying to be a Las Vegas casino in any way.”

And by designing MotorCity Casino to reflect the city's automotive, music and sports heritage, Solomon said the casino and its hotel can design vacation packages that include more than just gambling.

MotorCity believes it will be able to draw visitors from a 250-mile radius once its hotel opens in September. Until now, most of MotorCity's customers have come from a 50-mile radius.

“We will be building packages that will ask people to come see a Red Wings game, go to the Fox Theatre, go to the museums, the local restaurants,” Solomon said. “The addition of the hotel product will change face of hospitality in Detroit.”

Brent Snavely: (313) 446-0405,


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ethics Issues Confront Crop of Calif. Congressmen



Incumbent California GOP lawmakers facing ethics questions:

Rep. John Doolittle. The nine-term conservative from far Northern California is under investigation in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal that's already resulted in 12 convictions of congressional aides, Bush administration officials and others, including a guilty plea from one former Republican member of Congress, Bob Ney of Ohio.

Doolittle, whose ties to Abramoff include accepting his campaign money and helping his clients, relinquished his seat on the Appropriations Committee in April after FBI agents raided his home in Virginia with a search warrant for a fundraising and event-planning business run there by his wife, Julie, that had done work for Abramoff and drawn commissions from Doolittle's campaigns.

Doolittle denies wrongdoing.

Rep. Jerry Lewis. In his 15th term representing inland Southern California, Lewis was chairman of the Appropriations Committee last year when federal prosecutors in Los Angeles began investigating his ties to a lobbyist who represented a number of towns and businesses in Lewis' district. Clients of lobbyist Bill Lowery received valuable federal spending approved by Lewis' committee, and the firm and its clients have been generous donors to Lewis and his campaign committees.

Lewis remains top Republican on the Appropriations Committee and denies wrongdoing.

Rep. Gary Miller. A real estate developer serving his fifth term representing inland Southern California, Miller drew scrutiny after the Los Angeles Times published stories highlighting a tax deferral strategy he used in connection with profitable real estate sales to two Southern California towns outside his district. Officials in both towns say they've been interviewed by FBI agents, but Miller says he's done nothing wrong.

Rep. Ken Calvert. A year ago the FBI obtained copies of Calvert's annual financial disclosure forms after the Los Angeles Times reported on federal funding Calvert pushed for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from property he sold for a large profit. Calvert denied any connection or any profit to himself and said he'd done nothing wrong; there's no public evidence that he's under active investigation. Still, conservative bloggers protested after House GOP leaders tapped Calvert to replace Doolittle on the Appropriations Committee.

California GOP lawmakers who left Congress last session under an ethics cloud:
Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The former GOP House member from the San Diego area pleaded guilty in November 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

Richard Pombo. Pombo was chairman of the House Resources Committee when he lost re-election last November amid questions about his environmental policies and his ties to Abramoff. There was never public evidence that Pombo was under federal investigation. He lost to Democrat Jerry McNerney, a political neophyte, in a GOP-leaning Central California district.

Source: AP research

JohnsonClarke Associates - political consultants for both Doolittle & Pombo.

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