Friday, February 08, 2008
Dykema Gossett represents the gambling interests of Michael J. Malik, Marian Ilitch, the Bay Mills Indian Community, MotorCity Casino and others.
Lance Boldrey, the head of Dykema Gossett's Indian Law practice was at one-time lead counsel on Indian matters for former Michigan Governor John Engler. Boldrey was involved in negotiations between the Bay Mills Indian Community and Governor Engler's administration over claims to 110-acres in the Charlotte Beach subdivision east of Barbeau, Michigan. The so-called "settlement agreement" would give the Bay Mills tribe the right to develop an off-reservation casino in Port Huron, Michigan; nearly 350 miles from the tribe's existing reservation. Shortly after Engler signed the agreement and left office, Boldrey joined Dykema Gossett and counted among his clients casino syndicator Michael J. Malik and his partners the Bay Mills Indian Community.
Since 1993, Malik (and his various partners including the Ilitch Family) has pushed plans to locate an off-reservation Bay Mills Indian Community casino in the greater Detroit area (the tribe already has two casinos on its Brimley, MI reservation):
• (1993) first at the former Sears store in downtown Port Huron;
• (1994) with Harrah’s in Port Huron Township;
• (1994) with Harrah’s in the Foxtown area of downtown Detroit;
• (since 2001) at the Thomas Edison Inn site in the City of Port Huron.
Blue Water Resorts, LLC, a Malik-created entity, had a “management” contract with the Bay Mills Indian Community which was converted to a “consulting” contract in late 2007. The converted agreement grants Malik the exclusive right to develop and run a Bay Mills Indian Community off-reservation casino in the Port Huron area should he be able to secure approval for such a facility on the tribe’s behalf. Malik’s venture stands to take in up to 30% of the net profits of any such casino for the first seven years of operation. The tribe would have additional debt owing Malik’s venture for up to 30 years. A “consulting” contract does not require the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). Malik, in effect, avoids licensing scrutiny by the NIGC.
By securing the rights to develop and manage an off-reservation casino for the Bay Mills Indian Community on some parcel in Port Huron, Michigan; Malik gets the financial benefit of a significant gambling facility located in the greater-Detroit market but isn’t required to get a license from the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
Further, by securing rights to an Indian casino rather than a commercial casino; Malik and his partners will pay significantly less tax to state and local authorities.
The three commercial casinos in Detroit – of which Malik was denied a partnership interest in 1999 – are required to pay the State of Michigan 12.1% of net gaming revenues and the City of Detroit 11.9% of net gaming revenues.
An off-reservation Indian casino managed by Malik’s Blue Water Resorts, LLC would be required to pay the State of Michigan 9-13% of net gaming revenues on a sliding scale and would only be required to pay the City of Port Huron 2% of net gaming revenues leaving at least 9.9% of net gaming revenues on the table. The Bay Mills/Malik venture would not be required to pay neighboring cities, townships or the County of St. Clair any percentage of net gaming revenues (literally tens of millions of dollars each year).
Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Chief Fred Cantu Jr. questioned the motives of a rival tribe's attempts to gain land in the Port Huron area on Wednesday at Capitol Hill.http://media.www.cm-life.com/media/storage/paper906/news/2008/02/08/News/Tribal.Land.Claims.May.Be.Investigated-3197206.shtml
Cantu called two bills that would award land to the Bay Mills Indian Community for casinos a "scam from the start" and may have forced an investigation into the legality of its land claims.
Cantu testified in front of the House Committee of Natural Resources.
"In this case, I think what's being taken under advisement is for the committee recommendation to launch an investigation," said Joe Sowmick, Saginaw Chippewa's public relations director.
If approved, the two bills would settle land disputes among the state of Michigan, the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
Along with Cantu's testimony, representatives from the Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie tribes presented their positions.
Jeff Parker, president of the Bay Mills executive council, focused on the relocation of Bay Mills' 110-acre Upper Peninsula Charlotte Beach land claim promised by former Gov. John Engler.
"The governor insisted that we locate replacement lands in a community that was desirous of hosting us," Parker said during the hearing. "We have done that. That community affirmatively wishes our tribe to locate its replacement lands there."
Lawmakers in support of the bills included House Representative Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township and the two sponsors of the bills, state representatives Bart Stupak, D-Menomonee, and John Dingell, D-Dearborn.
Cantu said Port Huron is not an appropriate location for the settlement.
"The passage of this legislation will encourage tribes to create or exploit a land claim by seeking to replace lost lands with lands in profitable gaming markets, without regard to whether they are entering into the territory of another tribe," Cantu said.
Officials who lobbied against the bills included Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and House Representatives Carolyn C. Kilpatrick, D-Detroit; Mike Rogers, R-Clinton Township; John Conyers, D-Detroit; Shelley Berkley, D-Nevada; and Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi.
"At the very least I think we were able to state our position rather well," Sowmick said. "It allowed us to meet with not only other congressional leaders but some of the other people in Washington to let them know that we firmly believe in reservation business on reservation lands."
Cantu said in a press release that Bay Mills' intentions became more clear at the hearing.
"What we now know is that these bills have nothing to do with protecting innocent landowners (at Charlotte Beach), but it was scam from the get-go so these tribes could get casinos 350 miles from their reservations," he said.
The House Natural Resources Committee could vote on the bill by next Wednesday, but Cantu said he would appeal to the U.S. Department of the Interior for an investigation into the two tribes claims.
Granholm Amendment to Bay Mills Charlotte Beach Settlement
As reported earlier, here is the amendment to the Bay Mills Indian Community settlement agreement executed last November.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Flint emerges as clear option to Romulus
By MIKE CONNELL
The long-stalled proposal for a Port Huron casino led to a 3½-hour sparring match Wednesday between several Capitol Hill heavyweights.
"We are not asking for off-reservation gambling, we are simply asking for the settlement of land claims legitimately made by our governor and the tribes," argued Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the dean of the House and the sponsor of one of the two bills under debate.
"Congress has never passed a gaming compact," countered Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, chairwoman of the influential Congressional Black Caucus and mother of Detroit's mayor.
The two bills, one introduced by Dingell and the other by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, are meant to settle a land dispute dating to the 1850s.
Stupak's bill would provide the Bay Mills Chippewa with land in Port Huron in exchange for giving up its claim to 110 acres at Charlotte Beach in the Upper Peninsula. Dingell's bill offers the Sault Chippewa, which also has a Charlotte Beach claim, a casino site in either Flint or Romulus.
The political wrangling - seven members of Congress spoke in support of the bills and seven spoke against it - was hardly the day's only highlight. Among other headlines:
Detroit's embattled mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, made his first appearance on Capitol Hill in the two weeks since the text-and-sex scandal erupted.
With his mom looking on, he seemed at ease. "We're pitting Port Huron against Romulus against Detroit," he testified. "There aren't new gamers coming into the city of Detroit. ... Another casino in the mix will only hurt the vitality of all these casinos."
Flint emerged as a clear alternative to Romulus as the location for a Sault Chippewa casino.
Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, an expert on Indian law and earlier a vigorous opponent of the land deals, threw his support behind the bills. "I have to consider the economic realities of my hometown," he explained, and he proceeded to skewer most of the legal objections raised by opponents of the measure.
The chief of the Saginaw Chippewa, which has joined MGM Mirage in financing the campaign to block the two casinos, tossed out a bombshell in the hearing's final minutes.
Chief Fred Cantu said he suspects the Charlotte Beach land claims were "a scam from the outset." He said he will ask the Department of Interior to investigate allegations of fraud.
The 49-member committee could vote on the two bills as early as next Wednesday, but Rep. Kilpatrick closed the hearing with an appeal for a postponement.
"We don't want to be party to anything criminal," she said. "I would just implore the committee to look further into the matter."
Miller speaks out
It wouldn't be the first such delay. The original Port Huron casino bill was introduced 5½ years ago by former Rep. David Bonior. He gave up his seat to run for governor in 2002, but the casino banner was picked up by his successor, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.
She made a passionate appeal Wednesday, saying: "Port Huron is a beautiful city, a proud city, which has fallen on extremely difficult economic times."
Miller noted there are gaming facilities across the river in Point Edward and Sarnia, "where 80% of their revenue is from Americans." She observed how every elected official who represents Port Huron supports the casino.
"We are not asking for a handout," the congresswoman said. "We are simply asking for fairness, and for an opportunity."
Miller and Dingell also criticized casino opponents, who they said have hired public-relations consultants to set up shell companies to attack the bills.
Gambling Watch, incorporated in mid-January by Republican consultant Lori Wortz of Lansing, has used mass mailing to attack the casinos as a threat to Michigan families. Wortz counts MGM Mirage among her clients.
Americans for Gaming Reform, created three weeks ago by Democratic consultant Peter Ragone of California, has launched a radio blitz in Detroit and bought full-page ads in Washington. He has declined to identify his financial backers.
"Much of the opposition is based upon greed," Miller said.
She and Dingell both likened the tactics to those used by Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist who helped block earlier Port Huron casino bills while being paid more than $14 million by the Saginaw Chippewa.
Mike Connell can be reached at (810) 989-6259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to reports in the Port Huron Times Herald, the new agreements negotiated by the Bay Mills Indian Community (Michael Malik's Blue Water Resorts) and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians which would allow an Indian casino in Port Huron and Romulus respectively require those tribes to pay just 2% of net revenues to the cities. That leaves 9.9% on the table by comparrison to the taxes the Detroit commercial casino are required to pay. And it sets up a sliding scale to the state of between 9-13% of net revenues -- likely several percentage points lower than what the commercial casinos are required to pay the state.
Clearly these off-reservation Indian casino operators and the managers who negotiated the agreements on their behalf (Michale J. Malik/Marian Ilitch) will pay significantly less to the cities of Port Huron and Romulus than the commercial casinos are required to pay to the City of Detroit.
Mayor says having sites in Romulus, Port Huron would hurt Detroit
By TODD SPANGLER
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
WASHINGTON -- Saying legislation that would allow for Indian casinos in Romulus and Port Huron is pitting some of Michigan's neediest cities against each other and Detroit, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick asked a congressional committee Wednesday to turn it back.
It was the first Capitol Hill appearance for Kilpatrick since the Free Press reported two weeks ago on thousands of text messages that revealed an affair between the Detroit mayor and his former chief of staff -- a relationship both denied under oath during a court case last summer.
During his testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, Kilpatrick seemed at ease, defending his city from incursions he said no one should doubt would hurt Detroit's three casinos.
"We're pitting Port Huron against Romulus against Detroit," he told the committee, with his mother, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, looking on.
While Kwame Kilpatrick, his mother and another Detroit Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, opposed the measure, it had its supporters -- including Rep. Candice Miller, a Harrison Township Republican whose district includes Port Huron, and Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, whose district includes Romulus.
Dingell said he has studies to prove that a casino in Romulus will help Wayne County. Port Huron, meanwhile, has an unemployment rate three times the national average and a Canadian casino just across the St. Clair River.
At issue are 2002 settlements signed by then-Gov. John Engler with the Bay Mills and Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa tribes. In exchange for dropping long-standing claims to land in the Upper Peninsula, the tribes would get land for the casinos.
MGM Grand Detroit casino is opposed to the legislation. But Detroit's other two casinos are either in favor or silent. Marian Ilitch, who owns MotorCity Casino, is a partner in other ventures with Michael Malik, who wants to develop Port Huron's casino for the Bay Mills tribe. The Sault Ste. Marie tribe wants to open the Romulus facility while still running Greektown Casino.
"Much of the opposition is based upon greed," Miller said.
The House committee is expected to make any changes to the bill next week and then move it, though whether it gets a floor vote is iffy. The position of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is unknown, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is opposed.
Contact TODD SPANGLER at 202-906-8203 or at email@example.com.
Urges US to deny tribe's petition in effort to maintain state control
By Matt Viser
Governor Deval Patrick asked the federal government yesterday to reject efforts by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to place its planned casino site in Middleborough in a federal trust, an attempt by Patrick to steer the tribe toward a state-issued casino license that would garner far more money for Massachusetts.
With billions of dollars at stake, Patrick's move was part of a brewing dispute over what form expanded gambling could take in Massachusetts and whether it will be controlled by the state or by the tribe and the federal government.
If the tribe is able to win federal trust status for the land, the property effectively becomes sovereign territory, and the state risks being shut out of a share of gambling proceeds. State regulators would not have any sway over details like zoning, traffic, environmental impacts, and public safety. The value of any future state-licensed casinos would also be diluted.
By filing his 125-page objection with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the governor officially planted his flag in the Middleborough casino debate for the first time. While the subtext was clear - a fight over money - the administration hinged its arguments yesterday on jurisdiction, saying that trust status would deny the state any control over a host of issues.
Patrick supports tribal gambling, but on the state's terms. He has proposed a state licensing system for three resort casinos in the state and would give a bidding preference to Indian tribes in Massachusetts. Administration officials have been meeting with Wampanoag representatives to discuss the possibility of the tribe bidding on a state gambling license.
While Patrick's move could help him gain negotiating leverage, it is unlikely to persuade the federal government to deny the Wampanoag trust application, specialists say. States have little influence over whether Indian tribes are able to place lands in federal trust, even for the purpose of building casinos.
"The governor has no voice in the matter," said Dennis Whittlesey, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in Indian law. Last year, he represented the town of Middleborough in negotiating a deal that requires the tribe to pay the town $7 million a year if a casino is built.
"The governor can complain all he wants, but it does not matter," Whittlesey said. "He has no input."
The governor's filing yesterday questioned the actions of former tribal chairman Glenn Marshall, who resigned in August after news surfaced of a past rape conviction and his misrepresentation of his military record. The state's document states that Marshall, who was involved in negotiating the contract between the tribe and its outside partners, is a subject of a federal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department.
It also says that the financial deal between the tribe and its outside investors has not been disclosed to the state and that, without details, there is no evidence that the tribe would receive the most benefit from a casino.
"We have significant concerns about the initial proposal," Daniel O'Connell, Patrick's economic development secretary and chief gaming adviser, said in an interview yesterday. "We don't think it has enough information provided. Not enough work has been done to make the case for land [to go] into trust."
Administration officials have met with tribal leaders three times and have another meeting planned later this month, to discuss both the tribe's plans for the land and the administration's concerns.
"The tribe continues to have productive discussions with the Patrick Administration," tribal council chairman Shawn Hendricks Sr. said in a written statement yesterday. "We have clearly stated our reasons for sovereign land, and the governor has clearly stated his questions and concerns for the Commonwealth. We look forward to working through the issues raised with him, and I am confident we can do so."
The tribe won federal recognition last year, which set it on course to build a resort casino with 4,000 slot machines, table games, a 1,500-room hotel, and a host of amenities, including a golf course. The next critical step for the tribe is getting federal approval to place its land in trust, a process that can often take years.
When the tribe won recognition, Patrick telephoned the tribal council to extend his congratulations, and they agreed to further talks about taking land into trust.
Tribal leaders have said they would pursue a casino license under the governor's proposed legislation, which would legalize three casinos in Massachusetts. But given the political uncertainty of the proposal, which has not yet been taken up in the House, the tribe is also pursuing a plan to put the 539 acres in Middleborough into federal trust, which would effectively make it part of the tribe's reservation.
Other states have handled the situation similarly, opposing initial applications on a legal or technical basis with the hope of gaining political leverage and negotiating power.
"Very few governors from the get-go come out in support of those applications," said Steven Light, codirector of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota. "It's a political thicket. It's a sticky issue for them."
What is unusual is that, in Massachusetts, the governor is simultaneously pushing for legalization of casinos under a proposed state law.
Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin opposed applications in the 1990s. In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski in 2005 came out in support for an Indian casino in the Columbia River Gorge. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota initially opposed casinos, but then embarked on a failed bid to develop a joint partnership between the state and the tribes.
Sean Murphy of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Christine Wallgren contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Sault Tribe changes its tune when it comes to Act of Congress allowing off-reservation gaming in Michigan
- 2002 Testimony - Chair, Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
- 2008 Testimony - Chair, Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
He went on to say the deal was a "very bad idea. It accomplishes nothing that it purports to do and much that should not be done... It revives a claim Bay Mills has lost, rewarding shady dealings in the process. Indian policy should suffer no further distortion in favor of non-Indian interests lurking behind tribes like Bay Mills. If Congress sanctions this sham, the lines will grow long of those who will surely follow."
Just today the tribe's chairman said, "Federal, state and local officials — Democrats and Republicans — support the agreement with Bay Mills and the Sault Tribe as a fair way to address the Charlotte Beach land claim within the confines and spirit of the law...Quite frankly, the loudest arguments against H.R. 4115 and H.R. 2176 come from Las Vegas casino interests and gaming tribes that do not want competition to their own businesses. Our interest is that we are justly compensated for the illegal land taking from our tribe and that the titles are cleared for the many families who today own homes on Charlotte Beach lands."
Michigan delegation splits on casinos
By KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — A House panel considered legislation Wednesday that would clear the way for Indian casinos in Romulus and Port Huron, a plan that has divided Michigan's congressional delegation over the expansion of gambling.
Six Michigan House members testified on the measures to advance the two proposed off-reservation casinos, pitting the state's economic concerns against those who wish to halt additional gambling facilities.
The legislation before the House Natural Resources Committee would resolve a century-old dispute, providing land to house the two new casinos in exchange for the settling of 110 acres of land claims around Charlotte Beach in the Upper Peninsula.
"By ratifying these two settlements, Congress has an opportunity to right a wrong and bring an end to a land dispute that has been going on for over 100 years," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.
Stupak called the dispute a "food fight" among the delegation.
Supporters said the communities should have the opportunity to compete for the jobs and tax revenues that come from casinos in a state battered by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the nation's highest unemployment rate.
A Port Huron city official testified the city's unemployment rate was about three times the national average and the casino would help diversify its economy. In sum, the two casinos would "create thousands of well-paying, union jobs," said Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.
But opponents said the planned casinos were 350 miles away from the tribes' Upper Peninsula reservations and said it was a backdoor way to approve new casinos. State voters, they said, approved a referendum in 2004 to limit the expansion of gambling unless there was a statewide referendum.
The state's gambling compact with Indian tribes prohibits off-reservation gambling unless all the tribes agree to a revenue sharing plan.
"These two bills are simply an attempt to circumvent both the will of the people of Michigan and the compact the Michigan State Legislature has made with the tribes in Michigan," said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, said the casinos would bring some economic burdens to the area, cannibalizing local businesses and requiring local governments to deal with the societal ills of gambling. "We are going upset our apple cart in southeast Michigan," he said.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who has been embroiled in a sexy text-messaging scandal in his hometown, also testified in opposition to the new casinos. They would bring competition to Detroit's three state-licensed casinos, which took in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2007.
The mayor said the Detroit casinos were a key engine to the city's efforts to transform itself and adding more casinos to the region would "inhibit our ability to revitalize."
"We don't have a market for another casino. These casinos will take substantially away from the city of Detroit," Kilpatrick said.
Then-Gov. John Engler negotiated agreements in 2002 that would allow the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community to take land in Romulus and Port Huron, respectively, and build casinos. In return the tribes agreed to give up their claim to the property in the Upper Peninsula.
Voters in both cities have supported the agreement, but the deal needs congressional approval.
The House bills have created unusual alliances, with support coming from Stupak, Dingell, and Republican Rep. Candice Miller of Macomb County's Harrison Township. Opponents include Democratic Reps. John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Detroit and Republican Rogers.
Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have expressed support for the Port Huron bill but have not taken a position on the Romulus proposal.
During the hearing, some lawmakers invoked the name of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked on behalf of tribes with lucrative casinos to block competition. Miller waved a mailer that has been circulated in her district from a group called Gambling Watch, which she said was backed by a political consultant who has worked for gambling interests.
"It's all about greed," Miller said.
Abramoff was a prominent Washington lobbyist before allegations that he defrauded Indian tribes, including the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan, led to his downfall and a prison sentence.
Saginaw Chippewa Chief Fred Cantu said the bills were "a scam from the get go so these tribes could get casinos 350 miles from their reservations."
Rep. Dale Kildee of Flint, a leading Democrat on the committee, said he had been troubled by the creation of offsite casinos in the past but said he would support the bills because of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's support of the bills and the economic problems in his hometown.
The Interior Department opposes the legislation because it would prevent proper consultation with neighboring tribes, and with local and state governments that might be affected by the land deal, said Carl Artman, assistant secretary for Indian affairs for the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs.
But the bills appeared to have key support in the committee, which is expected to consider the legislation on Feb. 13. Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., rejected arguments that the measures amounted to "casino-shopping," while Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the added competition would boost "all the revenues of all the casinos" in the area.
story also available at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/fn/5519744.html
Some fear Detroit will be hurt, others seek job creation
By TODD SPANGLER
FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
WASHINGTON -- A proposal to allow two new Indian casinos in Michigan -- one in Romulus and one in Port Huron -- split the Michigan delegation in a congressional hearing today, with Detroit's representatives set against an idea they believe could hurt the city.
The hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees American Indian affairs, attracted a wide range of witnesses, including much of the congressional delegation, officials from the tribes themselves and embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
In his prepared remarks, the mayor said: "Clearly, this legislation would severely harm our city's ability to rebuild and revitalize. We have made great strides and will continue to do so. The investments and the revenues from our three hard-fought-after casinos are paramount to these efforts."
His mother, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, and Rep. John Conyers, both Detroit Democrats, argued against the bills, saying they allow for off-reservation gambling in violation of state and federal laws and will damage competition in Detroit's casinos.
But others, including Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving active member of the House, support the proposals, saying they are needed to create jobs in his district, which includes Romulus.
In his prepared remarks, the Dearborn Democrat said the Romulus project will bring 2,700 "well-paying, on-site union jobs" to the area, not to mention construction jobs.
He also noted the legislation would settle land claims brought by the Bay Mills Indian Community, which wants to build a casino in Port Huron, and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa, which would build the new casino near the Detroit airport in Romulus.
The hearing was expected to last for several hours with a long list of witnesses.
SACRAMENTO -- Measures to uphold an expansion of gambling at Indian casinos were headed for victory with about 90% of the state's precincts counted this morning, while an initiative to adjust the Legislature's term limits was behind. Roughly 56% of voters favored Indian gaming propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97. About 53% of voters opposed the term limits measure.
Another measure, Proposition 92, to guarantee community college funding, was rejected by about 58% of voters. As expected, voters also appeared to be rejecting a transportation funding measure, Proposition 91, that had been abandoned by its authors months ago.
A strong lead opened early for the gambling measures, which would give state taxpayers a share of slot machine revenues.
"Right now it looks like the voters are saying yes to hundreds of millions of new dollars each year," Roger Salazar, spokesman for the Yes on Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 campaign, said Tuesday. "We hope when the final tally comes in that will still be the case."
Scott Macdonald, spokesman for the campaign that opposed the casino measures, acknowledged late Tuesday that the returns so far "don't look good."
The battle was hard-fought, Macdonald said, even though opponents of the gambling propositions were outspent 4 to 1, because "people have serious reservations about what's in these compacts."
The gambling propositions asked voters to uphold or nullify four agreements negotiated by the governor and approved by the Legislature.
The pacts were forged to allow four Riverside and San Diego county tribes to add 17,000 slot machines to the 8,000 they already operate. In return, the tribes would pay the state a combined minimum of $123 million a year and up to 25% of the revenue from the new machines.
Advertisements for and against the measures have dominated airwaves for weeks. The campaign came within a few million dollars of breaking a record. Both sides raised a total of $147 million, just shy of the $152 million campaign over a 2006 oil tax initiative.
The four tribes with agreements at stake -- the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation -- said the deals could be worth $9 billion to the state over the next 22 years.
Opponents called that a rosy assumption and argued that the agreements would further enrich four tribes without increasing payments to tribes without gambling operations or with small casinos.
The four referenda were financed by Terrence Fancher, who manages companies that own California horse racetracks and have a stake in a Las Vegas casino; the casino workers union Unite-HERE, which dislikes labor provisions in the compacts; and two tribes that struck different gambling agreements and different revenue-sharing arrangements with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004...
Foes' motivation questionable
The quest for a Port Huron casino should never be viewed as the answer to the city's problems. A gambling facility alone won't solve unemployment or reverse the city's failing economic fortunes.
A Port Huron casino still could be a valuable asset. Its supporters insist it could create thousands of jobs and bring new visitors to Port Huron. Most important, the casino could compete against Canadian gambling facilities across the St. Clair River in Point Edward and Sarnia - two destinations for American gamblers.
Port Huron deserves its own casino. City residents said so in a 2001 advisory vote, but Port Huron's bid for a gambling facility remains an uphill struggle.
A variety of forces, gambling foes and those who represent communities that already have casinos and see more as unwanted competition, stand in the way of Port Huron. The Bay Mills Indian Community wants to establish a casino in the city. To do so, it must win congressional approval - something that promises to see the project's opponents in full play.
Today, the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives begins hearings on legislation that proposes to give Port Huron its casino. U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, introduced H.R. 2176, a bill that would settle a land claim with Bay Mills by according it land in Port Huron for a casino. A bill introduced by Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, would settle a similar claim with the Sault Chippewa, who want to build a casino near Metro Airport in Romulus.
Detroit officials, including Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, are dead set against either casino. Kilpatrick and her son, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, among others, are scheduled to testify in opposition. Despite Detroit's three casinos, the prospect of competing facilities apparently poses too great a threat to the city's narrow self-interest.
Worse is the campaign of Gambling Watch, a new organization that opposes the two casinos. Created two weeks ago by Lansing public relations expert Lori Wortz, Gambling Watch is employing a direct-mail effort to block the casinos' approval through fliers to Michigan households. They urge recipients to defeat the casino proposals and urge them to contact five elected officials - Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; Rep. Dingell; Rep. Stupak; and Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township.
Miller has consistently supported Port Huron's casino bid. Levin and Stabenow also favor the proposal.
Wortz has admitted working for MGM Mirage, which spent at least $160,000 in lobbying efforts against the Port Huron casino in the first half of 2007, according to federal disclosure forms. Although she insists Gambling Watch is her own initiative, her past practice and the campaign's timing are suspect.
Miller will testify in favor of the casino bills. We wish her well.
Port Huron has waited long enough. This ought to be the year the city finally gets its casino.
A media blitz aimed at rallying opposition to proposed casinos in Port Huron and Romulus is being orchestrated by a public-relations consultant who has worked for some of the biggest names in Democratic politics.
The media blitz appears timed to coincide with a congressional hearing today in Washington D.C. The 48-member House Natural Resources Committee is to hear testimony on a pair of bills that would open the door for two casinos, one near Metro Airport in Romulus and the other at either the Edison Inn or Desmond Landing in Port Huron.
"I believe I'll decline the gracious offer to disclose the donors," he said.
News of his campaign came a day after the Times Herald linked a similar
effort to a Lansing public-relations firm with ties to MGM Mirage, which owns a casino in Detroit and strongly opposes competition in Port Huron and Romulus.
Ragone is well-known in Democratic political circles. He has worked with such party stalwarts as former Vice President Al Gore, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo and former California Gov. Gray Davis.
Newsom, who was in the process of getting a divorce from Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle, publicly apologized for having a sexual affair with his campaign manager's wife. On the same day the mayor's scandal broke, Ragone admitted using fake names to post comments on Internet blogs. He initially denied doing so, which raised questions about his credibility with the local press corps.
Ragone said he left Newsom's staff last March and now works as an independent public-relations consultant.
Warning to Detroit
In Detroit, radio spots are warning of lost jobs and tax revenues if the two casinos are not stopped.
The commercials urge Detroiters to share their concerns with Michigan's senators - Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. The targets suggest a strategy of fighting the legislation in the Senate if it moves through the House.
Stabenow has supported the Port Huron casino from the beginning. Five years ago, she introduced a bill that ultimately was blocked single-handedly by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., now Senate majority leader.
Levin, who has served in the Senate for 29 years - longer than anyone in Michigan history - is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He began his political career in Detroit, where he sat on the city council from 1969 to 1977. He was neutral on the Port Huron casino until last summer, when he announced his support after appeals from several prominent residents.
One of Detroit's best-known radio personalities, Frank Beckmann of WJR-760, plans to address the issue this morning. His guests for a segment planned at 10:20 a.m. include Cliff Schrader, a former Port Huron councilman and a charter member of the Thomas Edison Casino Advisory Committee.
A full-page, four-color advertisement in Roll Call typically costs $12,470.
"There's a reason why tribes all across the country oppose this legislation," the ad said. "It's been called 'an end run around the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act' and a violation of a longstanding compact that bans off-reservation casinos unless all of Michigan's tribes agree."
Those comments echo the criticisms voiced by representatives of the Saginaw Chippewa, which owns Michigan's largest and most profitable casino in Mount Pleasant. The Saginaw tribe considers Port Huron and Romulus as parts of its ancestral lands and fiercely opposes the proposed casinos.
Ragone said he was unfamiliar with the Saginaw Chippewa and declined to answer when asked if he had business ties to the tribe's main lobbying firm.
The campaign by Ragone's Americans for Gaming Reform is not unlike one launched by Gambling Watch, a corporation created in mid-January by another public-relations consultant, Lori Wortz of Sterling Corp. of Lansing.
Sterling Corp.'s clients include MGM Mirage, a giant in the casino industry and developer of an $800 million casino-hotel in Detroit.
In 2004, MGM Mirage, the Saginaw Chippewa and Sterling Corp. were key players in passage of Proposal 1, which blocked an effort to add slot machines at seven horse tracks in southern Michigan. It did so by amending the state constitution to require voter approval of new gaming facilities.
Campaign-finance statements show the Saginaw Chippewa contributed $9.45 million and MGM anted up $8.35 million to help win passage of Proposal 1. Combined, the two allies kicked in most of the $19 million spent on the effort.
Records show Sterling Corp. was paid about $2.9 million for its services in supporting Proposal 1, which passed easily.
Missing the point
Richard Cummings, president of the Michigan Machinists and an architect of the effort to bring a casino to Port Huron, noted the proposal has won the support of Port Huron voters as well as every political leader - local, state, national, Republican, Democratic, independent - who represents the city.
Two gaming facilities - the Point Edward Charity Casino, located directly across the river from the Edison Inn, and Hiawatha Slots at a harness track in Sarnia - already exist in the larger community. The majority of visitors to those casinos are Michigan residents.
"One point that everyone misses is that we're not competing with Detroit or anywhere else for this market," Cummings said. "The market is right across the river where Americans go every day. They already have the opportunity to go to Mount Pleasant or Detroit. They can already go there today, but they're not. They're going to Canada. Port Huron is the only border crossing in Michigan without a casino on our side of the river."
Mike Connell can be reached at (810) 989-6259 or email@example.com.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
"Charlotte Beach Michigan" @ http://charlottebeach.blogspot.com/
" 'Wanted' Mackinac Band of Odawa & Chippewa lineal descendants" @ http://macbands.blogspot.com/
UPDATED: Congressional hearing tomorrow not likely to move off-reservation casino proposals out of Natural Resources Committee
And now the House Resources Committee has posted a formal announcement for a Feb. 13th Full Committee Mark-Up session to be held at 11:00 AM (eastern) where it will again take up the two Michigan off-reservation casino proposals. The markup will be webcast live on the Committee's Web site at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov.
UPDATED: Details posted for House Natural Resources Hearing on Michigan off-reservation casino schemes
H.R. 2176 (Stupak): To provide for and approve the settlement of certain land claims of the Bay Mills Indian Community.
H.R. 4115 (Dingell): To provide for and approve the settlement of certain land claims of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
House Natural Resources Committee
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 2176 and H.R. 4115
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, at 2:00 p.m.
Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building
The Honorable John D. Dingell (D-MI)
The Honorable Bart Stupak (D-MI)
The Honorable Carolyn C. Kilpatrick (D-MI)
The Honorable Mike Rogers (R-MI)
The Honorable Candice S. Miller (R-MI)
The Honorable Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) added
The Honorable Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) added
The Honorable Carl Artman, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
The Honorable Jeffrey D. Parker, President of Executive Council, Bay Mills Indian Community, Brimley, MI
The Honorable Aaron Payment, Chairman, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
The Honorable Alan R. Lambert, Mayor, City of Romulus
The Honorable Kwame Kilpatrick, Mayor, City of Detroit
The Honorable Fred Cantu, Chief, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Mr. Joe Conroy, Director of Government Operations, City of Flint, Flint, MI
The hearing will be webcast live on the Committee's Web site at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov.
originally posted 2.05.08; 8:05 AM
Rep. Don Young's Top 10 donor list includes prominent Great Lakes area families bankrolling 'off-reservation' casino projects
CONFIRMED by OpenSecrets.org: Two prominent Great Lakes area families bankrolling high-profile "off-reservation" casino plans in CA, MI, NY and WI are among Rep. Don Young's "Top 10" donors (likely even "Top 5" donors); as reported by Opensecrets.org for the Center for Responsive Politics. Both families and several of their closest associates contributed to Young on the same day, 5.23.05; making that Young's highest grossing fundraising day in of the two year election cycle.
The family of Dennis Troha through its JHT Holdings (Kenosha, WI) is ranked by Opensecrets.org as #3 among Young's donors overall . Troha's fortune was built in the trucking industry. Troha was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in March (2007) on charges of money laundering/campaign finance fraud and lying to the the FBI. It's alledged that he directed family members to contribute $100,000 to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and then in effect reimbursed them for the costs of the donations. Governor Doyle has approval authority critical to Troha's proposed casino venture.
The family of Mike Ilitch and Marian Ilitch through Ilitch Holdings, Inc. (Detroit, MI) ranks #6 on Young's list of overall contributors during the last election cycle. Mike & Marian Iitch co-founded Little Caesars Pizza almost 50 years ago. Their holdings include the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Detroit's MotorCity Casino and the management and licensing of several major sports arena/stadiums, theaters and concert halls in Detroit plus other related subsidiaries. If the Ilitch Holdings calculations were to include Michael J. Malik's contributions; Ilitch Holdings, Inc. rank would move up two places to #4 among all contributors to Don Young during the two year campaign cycle. Young had previously co-authored a bill intended to approve by Act of Congress one of the casino proposals they have backed.
The Ilitch Family organization ranked among the "Top 10" donors to another former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Richard Pombo. For the 2004/2006 campaign cycles, Mike and Marian Ilitch ranked #9 on Pombo's RICH PAC individual contributors list and Michael J. Malik, Sr., Ilitch family gambling associate, ranked #5. The Ilitches and Malik ranked ahead of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who was #10 on Pombo's "Top 10" list. As they've done for Young, the Ilitch Family organizations have handled travel and private airplane arrangements for Pombo too.
Both families contributions to Young rank ahead of some of America's most established and influential special interest groups inlcuding Lockheed Martin, FedEx, National Association of Home Builders, and National Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
Both families practice "bundling" campaign contributions -- that is, the practice of gathering checks in large or maximum amounts from various family members and associates (often one for the primary election cycle and at the same time a duplicate for the general election cycle), literally bundling them together and then handing them over at one time for greater impact. In effect it's one way of beating the campaign contribution limit laws that are in place. At this point only Troha is charged with criminal activity.
Rep. DON YOUNG (R-AK)
Top Contributors 2005 - 2006
(Dennis Troha Family - WI)
|4||Blank Rome LLP||$14,150|
(Mike & Marian Ilitch Family- MI)
|8||American Council of Engineering Cos||$11,000|
|9||Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel||$10,481|
|10||Air Line Pilots Assn||$10,000|
|10||American Maritime Officers||$10,000|
|10||Carpenters & Joiners Union||$10,000|
|10||Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn||$10,000|
|10||National Assn of Home Builders||$10,000|
|10||National Assn of Realtors||$10,000|
|10||National Beer Wholesalers Assn||$10,000|
|10||Operating Engineers Union||$10,000|
|10||United Parcel Service||$10,000|
As reported at www.opensecrets.org
originally postedat 3.18.07
a case of Abramoff-Lite: Rep. Richard Pombo was doing favors for his friends the Detroit casino syndicators on the same track he was advancing Northern Mariana Islands matters.
Rep. Richard Pombo was doing favors for his friends the Detroit casino syndicators; in turn they were funneling tens of thousands of dollars to Pombo’s committees, causes and friends. Although Pombo is no longer in office, these students of Abramoff and their Indian partners are still at play inside the D.C. Beltway.
While the Ilitch Family and Michael Malik, along with their lawyers and lobbyists, were contributing to Rep. Richard Pombo’s political committees and favorite causes, Pombo took advantage of his role as Chairman of the House Resources Committee and attempted in both the 108th and 109th Congresses to quietly slip through bills that would give favor and advantage to the Shinnecock Indian Nation, a tribe whose legal and public relations pursuits are being bankrolled by Ilitch & Malik.
Both bills had minimal exposure and then late in their respective sessions of Congress were reported in the House and placed on the Union Calendar for future vote of the whole House: H.R. 5134 (on Nov. 19, 2004); H.R. 512 (on Sept. 28, 2006). That’s as far as they got.
Both bills would have demanded the Secretary of Interior immediately review the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s petition for Federal Recognition and give a determination. If the Secretary failed to meet the Pombo deadline or didn’t rule favorably toward Pombo’s friends, both bills gave the Shinnecock the ability to appeal the in-action or negative decision in Federal court – a path that the Shinnecock have previously taken, which had outcomes favorable to the tribe.
The Shinnecock seek federal recognition as a tribe in order to build a Las-Vegas style casino and resort in the Hampton Bays area of Long Island, NY. Ilitch & Malik, under the veil of Gateway Casino Resorts (or Gateway Funding Associates), have been bankrolling legal, lobbying and public relations efforts to support the tribe in exchange for up to 30% of the future casino profits and development rights.
Ilitch & Malik want the matter expedited because each day that goes by without approvals that could lead to a groundbreaking or ribbon cutting for an anticipated Shinnecock casino in the Hampton Bays area of Long Island costs the pair of “investors” more money.
An Associated Press story written by Erica Werner in July 2005 raised questions about the timing of Ilitch/Malik hosted fundraising events to benefit Pombo in Detroit during the MLB 2005 All-Star Game and a hearing scheduled two days later in Washington D.C. that could possibly have had an impact on the Shinnecock pursuits. There are no noted press reports suggestig there was any awareness of Pombos attempts to assist his friends with H.R. 5134 or H.R. 512.
Gratuities to Pombo from the Detroit casino syndicators include:
$16,000 from Mike & Marian Ilitch, and Michael Malik to RICH PAC (earning them #9 and #5 spots respectively on RICH PAC’s “Top Ten” individual donors list for ’04 and ’06; Jack Abramoff was #10);
Total of more than $40,000+ for RICH PAC including contributions from various Ilitch lobbying firms (from $11,500 bundled on May 18, 2004 – $15,500 bundled on December 7, 2005);
$26,600 to the San Joaquin County GOP Committee (Pombo’s home party organization) on October 18, 2004 from Detroit-based Barwest (Ilitch/Malik entity doing business in Barstow, Calif.);
A $5,000 per head fundraiser at the 2005 MLB All-Star Game in Detroit (total proceeds unknown as there are no related contributions noted in Pombo’s campaign committee or RICH PAC disclosures despite aides to Pombo indicating he was the beneficiary of the event);
Various travel arrangements;
$50,000 to the RNC recorded the day after (7/13/05)the All-Star Game fundraiser ($25,000 each from Michae l J. Malik and Christopher Ilitch);
$220,000 lobbying contract signed by Barbara Bonfiglio on behalf of Williams & Jensen to represent Malik’s MJM Enterprises and Development during the period Bonfiglio was also RICH PAC treasurer.
H.R. 5134 - Congressional Actions
- 9/23/2004: Referred to the House Committee on Resources.
9/29/2004: Ordered to be Reported (Amended) by Voice Vote.
11/19/2004 7:51pm: Reported (Amended) by the Committee on Resources. H. Rept. 108-788.
11/19/2004 7:51pm: Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 482.
H.R. 512 - Congressional Actions
2/2/2005: Referred to the House Committee on Resources.
2/10/2005: Committee Hearings Held. (1st published hearing of the session; Shinnecock only testimony outside government; 14 of 46 Members noted as present)
6/21/2006: Committee Consideration and Mark-up Session Held.
6/21/2006: Ordered to be Reported by Voice Vote.
9/28/2006 4:28pm: Reported by the Committee on Resources. H. Rept. 109-694.
9/28/2006 4:33pm: Placed on the Union Calendar, Calendar No. 419
Pombo introduced H.R. 5134 in the House the same day he introduced H.R. 5135, “To provide for a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives to represent the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.” Six days later both bills were put before a vote of the Resource Committee, without either having been the subject of a previous hearing. Pombo introduced amendments to the bill he had introduced less than a week earlier in the form of a substitute bill. The committee voted and ordered the matters be reported to the full House. Pombo’s troubles in the Abramoff scandal have been tied to matters of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Although Rep. Pombo was clearly attempting to railroad approval of H.R. 5134 (and H.R. 5135); H.R. 5134 failed to win approval from the whole House in the 108th Congress.
Pombo was not deterred. He reintroduced the bill as H.R. 512 one month into the 109th Congress and his committee promptly “heard” the matter a week later.
The controversy surrounding the Ilitch/Malik hosted All-Star Game fundraising benefit for Pombo broke during Summer 2005 and the activities of Pombo and associates like his PAC Treasurer and former lobbyist Barbara Bonfiglio were increasingly being questioned.
Pombo severed his ties with Bonfiglio in March 2006 approximately six months after disclosure reports indicate her ties with Ilitch/Malik (for which she had been paid $220,000) were severed.
It had been 16-17 months since any formal action on H.R. 512.
Shortly after the June 2006 primary election, the Resources Committee held a routine mark-up session on what the Daily Digest indicated were “miscellaneous matters.” On June 21, 2006 the House Resources Committee reviewed more than two dozen bills including H.R. 512. The committee ordered by voice vote that reports be printed and advanced on certain of the various bills reviewed. H.R. 512 was reported to the Whole House three months later.
On September 28, at a time when the press and most others were focused on the many political campaign stories underway in the Fall elections, the report was presented and slipped into the hopper for a future vote of the whole House. All or part of the report prepared for the full House was part of the report he had ordered printed in 2004 because it appears that on the GPO printed version of Report 109-694, page six, third to the last paragraph of the section "COMPLIANCE WITH HOUSE RULE XIII" the report's author failed to replace "H.R. 5134" with "H.R. 512."
Pombo faced defeat at the polls on election day 2006 and there appears to have been no further action on H.R. 512.
Marian Ilitch and her family along with Michael J. Malik, Sr. have not been deterred by the loss of their political steward Richard Pombo. They still aggressively pursue plans to expand their Michigan casino empire through ventures with:
- the Shinnecock Indian Nation, seeking federal recognition and the opportunity to develop a casino complex in the posh Hamptons resort area of Long Island in New York;
- the Bay Mills Indian Community, using questionable land claims as leverage to get approvals to develop a third tribal casino off reservation in Port Huron, Mich.; and
the Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon Rancheria Bands of Indians in California, two tribes Ilitch & company have adopted for the purposes of relocating planned tribal casinos across state to the Mohave Desert community of Barstow, where Ilitch owns more than 100 acres alongside I-15, half-way between the southern California basin and Las Vegas.
originally posted 5.10.07
"Other lobbyists hired by [Marian] Ilitch to boost the Southern California casino proposal include Michael Rossetti, former senior legal counsel and chief tribal gaming expert to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton (whose agency has the final say on authorizing the tribe to claim the site as a reservation), and former Missouri Congressional Rep. Alan Wheat.
"Rossetti left his federal job in February to join a law firm representing, among other clients, the Seneca Nation, whose casino plans he had steered through the Department of the Interior. Two months later he was representing the Los Coyotes Band in their Barstow effort along with [Willie]Brown."
originally posted 7.02.07
Michael Malik and the Ilitch family have contributed more than $533,000 to "supporters" of the Port Huron casino proposal
In addition, Malik and members of the Ilitch family have raised tens of thousands more for these politicians by hosting events at their homes, offices and business locations in order to leverage friends, vendors, consultants and business associates with whom they're associated. The Ilitch jet has been used to fly some of these politicians around the country.
To learn more about the relationships between Malik/Ilitch family and these politicans click on the names in the list above.
Miller calls foul over highly organized opposition campaign
By MIKE CONNELL
Directing its appeal to "Michigan families," a newly incorporated organization has launched a direct-mail campaign aimed at blocking proposed casinos in Port Huron and Romulus.
There is a twist, however.
The organization - Gambling Watch - isn't a grassroots anti-gambling group opposed to casinos on moral or ethical grounds. In fact, it's a corporation created just two weeks ago by a Lansing public-relations specialist whose clients include MGM Mirage, a giant in the gambling industry and a fierce opponent of the two casinos.
"This was put together by a very well known, highly paid political consultant who has worked for other casino interests, other gaming projects in Michigan," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, whose district encompasses Port Huron. "Spare me the righteous indignation."
Gambling Watch was incorporated on Jan. 18, according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. The legal paperwork was handled by a lawyer with Dickinson Wright, a Lansing law firm that counts MGM Mirage among its clients.
Gambling Watch's resident agent is Lori Wortz, the chief operating officer of Sterling Corp., a Lansing public-relations firm that specializes in ballot proposals and public-policy issues.
Wortz is well-known in conservative political circles. She oversaw Pat Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign in Michigan and later worked for the Republican National Committee. Last month, she helped guide Mitt Romney's campaign to a primary victory in his native state.
In a telephone interview, Wortz acknowledged her work with MGM Mirage but said Gambling Watch was strictly her initiative.
"They're supportive of it," she said of MGM, "but there are other people who support it, too."
MGM Mirage, based in Las Vegas, has annual revenues in excess of $7 billion. Its majority owner is Kirk Kerkorian, 90, whose personal fortune was estimated at more than $9 billion last year by Forbes magazine. According to federal disclosure forms, MGM spent at least $160,000 in the first half of 2007 to lobby against a Port Huron casino.
The people spoke
Wortz recalled campaigning for a 2004 ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to require voter approval of any expansion of gambling in Michigan. The measure was aimed at so-called "racinos," or the legalization of slot machines at seven horse tracks in southern Michigan.
MGM Mirage, which has invested more than $800 million in a casino-hotel in Detroit, and the Saginaw Chippewa, which runs the state's largest casino in Mount Pleasant, did not want competition from race tracks. They poured money into the campaign for the 2004 proposal, which passed easily.
Wortz said the voters spoke clearly, which is why she believes it would be wrong to allow casinos in Port Huron and Romulus without a statewide referendum.
"What I feel and many others feel is that it's important for voters to be aware that this is about expansion of gambling," she said. "Any expansion in the state should go to the voters."
Families on alert
Gambling Watch has shared that message in fliers mailed to households across the state. The flier carries a large headline: "Michigan Family Alert." A smaller headline adds: "Washington Poised to Force Two New Casinos on Michigan Families. Only You Can Stop the Special Interests."
The flier mentions Wednesday's congressional hearing and calls on people to contact five politicians - Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit; Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn; Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee; and Miller.
It says the five "can put a stop to this special interest attempt to add two more casinos to the 22 Michigan already has."
Dingell and Stupak introduced the two bills that will be debated at Wednesday's hearing. Levin and Stabenow have expressed support for a Port Huron casino.
Fair play, free trade
For the five years she has been in office, Miller has been steadfast in her support of a Port Huron casino, describing it as a matter of fair play and free trade.
She noted Port Huron is the only American border community that has not been allowed to compete for the jobs and tax revenues generated by casinos on the Canadian side.
She expressed frustration with Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his refusal to reach out to Port Huron.
"I remember when he was saying we had to support casinos in Detroit so his city could compete for all the American dollars going to the casino in Windsor," she said. "And he was right, just as it's only right to let Port Huron compete for all of the American dollars going to Point Edward and Sarnia."
Miller also observed that Port Huron's entire political delegation - local, state and national - supports the casino.
She said her office has received "upwards of 500 phone calls in the last week" from people responding to Gambling Watch's mailer. Little if any of that opposition was coming from St. Clair County, she added, "and we're certainly not getting any from Port Huron."
Nick Choate, an aide to Stupak, said his office also has been getting calls. "I don't have an exact number. We are getting a few," he said. "I wouldn't say the phones are ringing off the hook."
Choate said he was unaware of Gambling Watch's origins.
For her part, Miller clearly wasn't amused to learn of the ties to a public-relations agency and a law firm that represent MGM Mirage.
"When my staff first told me about these fliers, I said 'I can tell you right now who's behind this,'" she recalled. "Who would pay for a mailing like this? It had to be other casino interests. This thing is about money."
She said people who oppose gambling for reasons of conscious were being manipulated by special interests with hidden motives.
"Have you heard of Jack Abramoff?" Miller asked, naming the corrupt lobbyist who is serving a federal prison sentence for fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. "These people who put this flier out have taken a page right out of the Abramoff playbook. These are exactly the kind of tactics he would do for his clients. It's a very deceptive thing."
Miller is scheduled to testify at Wednesday's hearing, which focuses on bills introduced by Stupak and Dingell. She also said the 48-member committee is not expected to vote on the measures until later this month.
If the committee approves the bills, they would go to the full House for its consideration. Companion legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
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