During the first six months of 2008, MGM Mirage was locked in a bitter dispute with parties hoping to open two off-reservation Indian casinos in the greater-Detroit area.
Among other things, MGM Mirage financed a so-called "grassroots" letter writing campaign mounted by a group called "Gambling Watch." The group was created in mid-January by public-relations consultant, Lori Wortz of Lansing-based Sterling Corp.
There was no real attempt by MGM Mirage to hide their support for Gambling Watch. In a BusinessWeek article, Alan Feldman, senior vice presdident for public affairs at MGM Mirage said, "We've made no secret of where we are on this."
Detroit-based casino syndicator Michael Malik and his partners -- the people behind a plan to put a Bay Mills Indian Community casino in Port Huron -- belied MGM Mirage and the Gambling Watch effort as deceptive and low. They likened Gambling Watch's tactics to those employed by the jailed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Isn't that ironic?
Despite crying foul and evoking Abramoff's name, Malik and his army of PR/political flacks and attorneys have used the same tactics in other states.
In 2001, they formed and financed Holomua Hawai'i, in an effort to legalize gambling in the Hawaiian islands. In 2002, The Honolulu Advertiser reported:
Holomua Hawai'i, named after the Hawaiian word for progress, is packaged as a grassroots effort, but it is in fact the creation of a Michigan public relations and political consulting firm hired by [Marian] Illitch and [Mike] Malik to promote the casino plan. The firm, Marketing Resource Group [owned by PR Flack Tom Shields], spent nearly $11,000 lobbying lawmakers between January and April last year, records show.In 2006, Malik & Ilitch formed Barstow Citizens for Real Economic Development so that they could impact local elections in the remote Mojave Desert town. They spent $200,000 running their "grassroots" effort.
Sworn court depositions indicate that they recruited a leader of the Los Coyotes Band of Indians out of San Diego and a local Barstow businessman to serve as figure-heads of their so-alled "grassroots" organization. Campaign reports indicate they paid members of the tribe to come to Barstow as "grassroots volunteers." They also hired the local businessman's family members to work on their behalf.
Barstow campaign disclosures indicate Mike Malik and Marian Ilitch each contributed $25,000 to the campaign which was managed by their PR/political consultant Tom Shields. And Shield's firm, Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group has carried the "grassroots" committee's $150,000 campaign debt for more than two years.
The Malik/Ilitch team used their "grassroots" group trying to interfere and block the local election with a frivilous lawsuit and so a judge ordered them to pay the $110,000 legal bill incurred by another committee that had to defend against the Michigan casino syndicators.