Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tom Shields was spreading rumors about Sen. Harry Reid; now his team blames Reid

Earlier this year, a spokesman for Michael Malik and Marian Ilitch, Tom Shield said Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) had changed his previous position opposing a Bay Mills Indian casino proposed for Port Huron, Michigan on the site of the Thomas Edison Inn; 350-miles by car from the tribe's reservation. Reid's office never confirmed rumors being spread at the time by the Malik/Ilitch PR machine.

Now those in the Malik/Ilitch camp are blaming Senator Reid for their failure to get a congressional hearing on their unorthodox schemes for an off-reservation casino. The Malik/Ilitch team has made claims that they had enough votes to pass their proposal in the House Natural Resources Committee (although there's no official confirmation) and that Senator Reid made an appeal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have bill H.R. 2176 authorizing the Bay Mills casino scheme pulled from the agenda of a recent Natural Resources Committee hearing.

MotorCity Casino's hotel set to open on Nov. 28


Motor City Casino is ready to roll
New garage relieves Greektown parking woes


November is a landmark month in Detroit's casino history, as the last of its three casinos takes major steps on its journey to join the other two as city skyline eye-catchers.

In 6 days, MotorCity Casino will open the doors on its luxury hotel and brand-new gaming areas. The skyscraper taking form next to the old Wonder Bread factory has been visible on the Lodge at Grand River for months. Every week makes it clearer that the doors are about to open on a new chapter in the historic building's annals.

Recently, the last stainless-steel panels were lifted into place to complete the signature swoops of metal that top the roofline. Catch the building on a night when engineers are running the electrical system through last-minute tests and you can see the bands of neon lighting that separate and illuminate each floor.

Delays in the delivery of furnishings and the need to train employees on site pushed the MotorCity opening from Nov. 1 to Nov. 28. That date is unlikely to change, given that the hotel has been taking reservations (and the billboards around town all say "Opening in November"), so mark it on your calendar: The time to visit Detroit's newest landmark building is almost here.

Greektown celebrates
Greektown had a quiet opening a week ago that made a big difference for its customers: There's now a free, 13-story parking garage linked to the casino by an enclosed (and climate-controlled) walkway. It sits on the Lafayette Avenue exit off I-375.

Parking at the casino has been, according to both customers and casino executives, atrocious. Tucked into the lively Greektown neighborhood, the casino compromised on parking from the beginning, and street and garage spaces have been at a premium.

Once an old city garage was demolished to make way for the new casino garage, things got even more painful. Valet spaces were limited, and finding self-parking space was nearly impossible. Patrons responded by staying away, causing a dramatic dip in the casino's September income.

The new garage has most modern conveniences, including large signs that tell you how many spaces are available on each floor. But for most customers, the most convenient feature will be parking there at all.

Greektown will be the final casino to open its finished property. A 30-story hotel is being built next to and around the parking garage -- there's actually a level of the garage that sticks into the hotel space -- and you can see the rooms and suites starting to take shape now.

The finished hotel, meeting space and gaming areas will be complete by next October, though some phases will open earlier as they're completed.

MotorCity is also quick to say that its construction is happening in phases. Although Wednesday marks the grand opening of the largest part of the new complex, some areas are still being renovated. .

Last month, MGM Grand opened its nearly $800-million tower at 1777 Third Ave. downtown. It includes a luxury hotel, spa and signature restaurants from chefs Wolfgang Puck and
Michael Mina.

Once all three facilities are completed, the buildings will form the anchors of a triangle around downtown that will be visible from nearly anywhere in the area.

Contact HEATHER NEWMAN at 313-223-3336 or

Monday, November 19, 2007

Port Huron casino hopes all but dead in Congress


City's casino hopes fade in Congress
Despite support, bill is removed in House committee

Times Herald

Detroit and Nevada interests teamed up Thursday to block the latest effort to win congressional approval for a Port Huron casino.

"You have a number of different factions that are all lined up against the casino," said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, whose district includes Port Huron.

The House Natural Resources Committee had been scheduled to "mark up" - or endorse - two bills that would have paved the way for casinos in Port Huron and Romulus. At the last moment, both bills were removed from the agenda.

Miller said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., late Wednesday and urged her to block action on the bills.

"I didn't listen to the phone call, but I believe it happened," Miller said.

Reid's office, when contacted by the Times Herald, would neither confirm nor deny the phone call.

"Sen. Reid supports Indian gaming as authorized under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, however he strongly opposes off-reservation gaming," Jon Summers, a spokesman for the senator, said in a statement. "The Bay Mills Indian Community's proposal would put a casino in a location that is 200 miles away from their reservation. Should this bill pass the House, Sen. Reid will oppose it."

Actually, Port Huron is about 350 miles from the Bay Mills reservation in Brimley, a town on Lake Superior.

Casino could be dead
The start of Thursday's committee meeting was delayed by an hour. At
noon, when the session finally got under way, the committee's chairman announced the changes in the agenda.

"I will not call those bills up today but do intend for them to be considered in the relatively near future," said U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

The "near future" apparently will be January at the earliest. Rahall also said Thursday's session would be the committee's final business meeting of the year.

What's unclear is whether any realistic hope remains for a Port Huron casino.

Mike Malik, the Detroit developer who has been trying to put a casino in the city for 15 years, did not return phone messages Thursday. It was the opening day of gun-deer season, and friends said they believed Malik was hunting in northern Michigan outside cell-phone range.

Miller said she was uncertain what the next step might be. She said the committee, which last debated the Port Huron and Romulus casino issues nearly 3½ years ago, could schedule another public hearing early next year.

Detroit lawmakers, who did not participate in the June 2004 hearing, complained this week that the bills should not advance until they can make their case.

Granholm lends her support
Even if the bills were to pass the House, their prospects in the Senate would seem poor given Reid's opposition. Five years ago, he singlehandedly blocked a Port Huron casino bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Miller said she believes Reid asked Pelosi to block the measure before it could reach the Senate, thus avoiding an uncomfortable showdown with Stabenow and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, who announced his support for a Port Huron casino earlier this year.

The proposal got another big lift this week when Gov. Jennifer Granholm came out in support of a modified agreement, which she said could ease unemployment in Port Huron and provide as much as $30 million in annual revenues for the cash-strapped state government.

A new agreement with Granholm also could open the door for moving the casino to a site other than the Edison Inn property, the only location allowed under the agreement made five years ago with former Gov. John Engler. There is considerable sentiment in Port Huron for putting the casino either at Desmond Landing or on the downtown YMCA property between Glenwood Avenue and Beers Street.

Backers had the votes
Another boost came when U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, the co-chairman of the Native American Caucus and the only Michigan lawmaker on the 48-member Natural Resources Committee, said he wouldn't oppose the Romulus and Port Huron bills. He noted that Flint and Monroe are alternative sites for the Romulus casino.

With Kildee on board, the two bills appeared to face clear sailing Thursday.
"We were absolutely certain we had the votes," Miller said, speaking for herself and the bill's Democratic sponsors, Bart Stupak of Menominee and John Dingell of Dearborn. "I had several Republicans lined up, and most of the (committee) Democrats were on board. There was a clear majority."

She said Pelosi also had promised floor time to Dingell and Stupak, meaning the full House could have voted on the bills before Christmas.

"Now that is totally stopped," Miller said.

Kilpatricks lead opponents
Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, described Thursday's skirmish as "a scuffle ... pitting several of the most senior House Democrats against each other."

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, the influential chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and the mother of Detroit's mayor, reportedly led the opposition.

"The passage of this legislation would undermine two ballot proposals approved by Michigan voters, set a dangerous precedent under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and undermine the authority of the Michigan State Legislature," she told Rahall in a letter co-signed by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Her son, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, also wrote Rahall to share his fears that Port Huron and Romulus casinos would harm Detroit's economy.

"Over a decade ago, the people voted to allow three casinos to open in the city of Detroit to spur economic development through job growth and new taxes," the mayor said. "The casinos employ over 7,500 people today, and that number will grow to almost 9,000 when the current hotel/casino construction projects are completed. ... Any expansion of off-reservation gaming will not only compromise the economic strides that we've made, but will also contradict the will and intent of Michigan voters."

MGM spends big money
The Kilpatricks echoed arguments made by MGM Mirage, the casino giant controlled by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. The corporation is Nevada's largest employer, and it recently invested $800 million in the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press reported MGM had spent $180,000 to lobby against a Port Huron casino. MGM's lobbyists include Kai Anderson, a former deputy chief of staff to Reid.

The Saginaw Chippewa, owners of Michigan's largest and most profitable casino in Mount Pleasant, also fought the Port Huron project. The Saginaw tribe counts Port Huron as part of its ancestral lands.

The Port Huron and Romulus bills don't mention casino gambling. Instead, they seek approval of deals Engler made with two Chippewa tribes shortly before leaving office at the end of 2002.

The Sault and Bay Mills bands, who separated in 1948, both claim title to land at Charlotte Beach on the St. Mary River. They agreed to give up those claims in exchange for reservations in southeastern Michigan.

The Sault, the state's largest tribe with about 31,000 members, hopes to open a casino near Metro Airport in Romulus. The tribe also owns the Greektown Casino in Detroit.

Bay Mills was promised a 15-acre reservation on the Edison Inn property. Malik's company, Blue Water Resorts LLC, has been paying a monthly option on the property.

'A false land claim'
Larry Rosenthal, a Flint native and a consultant for the Saginaw Chippewa, noted the tribal land claims in Charlotte Beach have been rejected in both federal and state courts.

"The legislation is predicated by a false land claim," he said. "They're using it simply to circumvent the 1993 gaming compact for Michigan."

As part of the 1993 compact, Michigan's 12 federally recognized tribes agreed they would not participate in off-reservation gaming. A tribe cannot legally open a casino outside its ancestral lands without approval from the other 11 tribes. That's one reason why skeptics question the legitimacy of a casino proposal in Kimball Township.

Rosenthal criticized the Sault for hypocrisy. When Bay Mills made its deal with Engler in August 2002, the Sault derided the land swap as patently illegal. The tribe then turned around and made its own deal with Engler on Dec. 30, 2002, the day before he left office.

"Even the Sault tribe has opined in the past that a land claim doesn't exist," Rosenthal said.

Levin may be last hope
Supporters of the Port Huron and Romulus casinos insist the proposals are not only legal but essential for two economically struggling communities.

Dingell, the chairman of the House Energy Committee, accused the Kilpatricks and Conyers of "numerous inaccuracies, distortions and outright misrepresentations of fact regarding our legislation and its beneficial impact for the tribes, local communities and the State of Michigan."

Miller expressed disappointment with a Times Herald editorial Thursday, which she described as "incredibly naïve." It blamed House Republicans for blocking past casino bills.

The congresswoman said Democrats, who control both branches of Congress, have been calling the shots. "It is a lot of internal Democratic politics here," she said. "Democrats control both the House and the Senate. Every committee chair is a Democrat. They control what gets on the floor."
She also questioned whether Levin and Stabenow support the casino in deed as well as word. In the five years since she took office, Miller noted she repeatedly has pushed casino bills. In the same period, no legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

"If Carl Levin can't stop Harry Reid, I don't know if it's possible," she said.

City at mercy of others
She also echoed a point made by others - Detroit and Nevada interests are much more concerned about a Romulus casino than a Port Huron casino.

Romulus is about 20 miles from Detroit, and the proposed casino near Metro Airport would be one of the largest in the state. Port Huron is 60 miles from the city, and its casino presumably would compete less with Detroit than with two Ontario provincial casinos across the St. Clair River in Point Edward and Sarnia.

Dick Reynolds of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters questioned why Port Huron, which has Michigan's highest unemployment rate, is denied the right to compete for a share of a business that already exists in the larger community.

"I think it's very sad that outside interests are dictating to us what we can and cannot have," he said.

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