Pizza matriarch takes on casino roles
Marian Ilitch lobbies to legalize gambling in Hawaii, helps Port Huron gaming effort
...Al Sebastian, a spokesman for Ilitch Holdings Inc., parent company of Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. and other family endeavors said, "She has been successful in Detroit, and she's looking to duplicate that success elsewhere."
Some Detroit casino interests are in a lather about the prospect of a Port Huron casino. But Ilitch, 69, has merely played matchmaker between members of the Bay Mills Indian Community -- with whom she has had a relationship for about 10 years -- and federal lawmakers who ultimately will vote on the St. Clair County project, Sebastian said.
"We would do that for any group, whether it concerns proposed casinos, entertainment efforts or sporting events," Sebastian said...
The Port Huron question
Back home, Ilitch assistance, however tangential, with the Port Huron casino proposal and the Bay Mills tribe could raise eyebrows. Some Detroit casino interests think Port Huron is too far away to significantly dent their business, but others like MotorCity investor Tom Celani and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick contend the casino would take revenues from Detroit casinos -- and the city of Detroit.
Michigan Gov. John Engler and the Bay Mills tribe reached a settlement by which Bay Mills would drop a land claim in the Upper Peninsula if it were allowed to open a casino in Port Huron.
Sebastian confirmed that Marian and daughter Denise attended an Oct. 10 hearing called to discuss legislation allowing the Port Huron deal to proceed. But he said the main reason for the trip was to show off the Stanley Cup trophy won by the Red Wings to legislators.
"Marian and Denise Ilitch observed the hearings, but did not participate,"
Celani, a 10 percent shareholder in MotorCity, said a study by Detroit casinos showed that a Port Huron rival could cost the city of Detroit up to $20 million a year in tax revenues.
"We're disappointed," said Celani, who also co-owns a Harley-Davidson dealership in Farmington Hills. "Why should anybody in Detroit promote anything within a 150-mile radius? It doesn't make sense."
The city of Detroit could have a say, ultimately. Agreements with each of Detroit's three casinos prevent them from owning a piece of another casino within 150 miles.
Ilitch spokesman Sebastian said Celani's concerns are unfounded. "There is no ownership because there is no casino," Sebastian said of Ilitch's role. "It is not an issue."
But Ilitch believes that a Port Huron casino would help Metro Detroit.
"It's a good proposal that will help the tribe, Port Huron and the state if approved," Sebastian said.
"Members of our organization [Michael J. Malik, Sr.] have had a relationship with Bay Mills for 10 years," Sebastian said. "We had initial discussions about casinos before the Detroit casinos opened." At one time, Bay Mills wanted to build a casino near the Fox Theatre.
Recently "the tribe came to our organization to ask for our assistance to open doors for their proposed casino project in Port Huron," Sebastian said. "We introduced some of their members to a number of public officials in Washington, D.C."
In 2001, 54 percent of city voters approved a proposal to build a Port Huron casino.
Ilitch hasn't leaped at every casino opportunity, though. In 1999, she, along with Celani [and Michael Malik], was part of a group that would manage Little River Casino in Manistee. But Ilitch left the group. Ilitch and Celani are the two biggest local investors in Detroit casinos.
Other Detroiters are watching Port Huron developments.
The head of a group of about 100 Metro Detroiters owning 12 percent of MotorCity Casino has asked Ilitch about Port Huron. Ilitch has assured Vivian Carpenter, president of Atwater Entertainment Associates, that her children have no ownership interest in Port Huron, and that Marian Ilitch isn't violating a pact prohibiting the ownership of another casino within 150 miles...
Ilitch Family casino and development partner Michael J. Malik, Sr., and several entities he's affiliated with (Blue Water Resorts, MJM Enterprises, Blue Water Resorts Manager, Inc) are tied directly to the Bay Mills Indian casino scheme.