Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Tremendous obstacles still remain" for Michigan off-reservation casinos


House committee approves bills to advance Indian casinos

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee approved legislation Wednesday that would advance two proposed Indian casinos in Romulus and Port Huron, seeking to end a century-old land dispute for the Michigan tribes.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bills to provide land for the two new casinos in exchange for the settling of 110 acres of land claims around Charlotte Beach in the Upper Peninsula.

Some lawmakers from Michigan and Nevada have criticized the plan, saying it amounted to a backdoor attempt by two tribes to gain land hundreds of miles from their reservation to build casinos outside of the normal process prescribed by federal gaming laws.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., an opponent, said it amounted to "egregious reservation-shopping."

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community reached agreements in 2002 with the state to take land in Romulus and Port Huron, respectively, and build off-reservation casinos. The deal needs congressional approval.

The measure dealing with the Bay Mills tribe was approved 21-5 by the committee. The bill concerning the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe was passed on a 22-5 vote. The bills have been pushed by Democrats John Dingell of Dearborn and Bart Stupak of Menominee and Republican Candice Miller of Macomb County's Harrison Township.

Supporters said Congress was the only place where the tribes could resolve the dispute, which dates back to 1855, and the casinos would create jobs and economic development at a time when Michigan's economy is sputtering. They noted that both Republican Gov. John Engler and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm approved of the plan, along with local communities.

"We do only have one governor elected statewide. And two of those governors in succession ... have decided this is the right thing to do," said Rep. Dale Kildee, a Flint Democrat who sits on the committee.

Aaron Payment, chairman of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, called the vote a "victory for Wayne County and every citizen there who is in need of a good job." He said it would lead to 3,000 jobs and more than $300 million in investments in southeast Michigan.

Previous attempts to approve the measures have failed and the proposals face an uncertain future because of opposition from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the leadership's consultation with Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., "will continue in the normal process of determining the legislative schedule ahead."

Miller, who sponsored the Port Huron legislation, said that "tremendous obstacles still remain" but she was hopeful that the bill would get a fair hearing in the House.

The Interior Department has opposed the legislation because it would prevent proper consultation with local and state governments and neighboring tribes that might be affected by the land deal.

Heller sought to change the bills to remove references to gambling and to require further consultation with the Interior Department. But the amendments were rejected by wide margins.

Powerful battle rages in Congress over Casino plans


Casino Battle Rages in Congress
Interests Clash as Mich. Tribes Pursue Land off Reservations

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer

An unusual effort by several powerful congressmen to clear the way for two Indian casinos in Michigan is fueling a fierce multimillion-dollar lobbying battle of a scale not seen since the fall of Jack Abramoff.

More than a dozen lobbying firms have joined the fray on both sides, representing Indian tribes, well-connected Michigan developers and the Las Vegas-based gambling company MGM Mirage. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions have flowed to members of Congress considering bills that would allow the tribes to build casinos in populated areas away from their reservations. The bills pit senior Democrats against one another -- among them three House committee chairmen, leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Yesterday, legislation that would allow the casinos sailed through the House Natural Resources Committee, clearing a hurdle that portends only more furious advocacy.

"It'll be a real lobbying effort on both sides," predicted Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), a bill supporter and co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus. "Whenever you combine gaming and money to be made, you find a lot of people interested who were never interested in Indians before."

The legislation would settle century-old land claims lodged by the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe. Land swaps would give the tribes properties desirable as casino locales, one near Detroit, the other in Port Huron, on the Canadian border. State and local governments would gain a share of the revenues.

The tribes and their development partners argue that the casinos would bring thousands of jobs to a state battered by foreclosures and auto industry layoffs. Opponents say the legislation amounts to a precedent-setting backdoor way for tribes to build casinos on land outside their reservations. The legislation circumvents the Interior Department, which opposes it.

The key House backer of the tribes' bid is Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He is squared off against other powerful Michigan Democrats, including Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who say the casinos will glut the already saturated Detroit area gambling market. There are three commercial casinos in Detroit and 17 others around the state owned by tribes.

"Much of the opposition is based purely on greed," Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.) argued in a committee hearing on the casinos last week. "Now that the city of Detroit has theirs, they don't want anyone else to have one."

The two sides have accused one another of the sort of tactics Abramoff's lobbying team made famous, including creating front groups to gin up anti-gambling sentiment. Opponents charge that the tribes' legal position rests on a sham land purchase secretly engineered by one of the casino developers.

Michael Malik, developer of one of the proposed casinos, is a business partner of Marian Ilitch, whose family owns a casino, hockey's Detroit Red Wings and baseball's Detroit Tigers. Malik, Ilitch and their family members have given $393,000 to members of Congress in the past two election cycles. On the other side, MGM Mirage is the biggest contributor to members of Congress, giving $1.4 million in the past two cycles. The Saginaw Chippewa tribe, which operates a casino and sees the legislation as a threat to its business, has given $394,000.

At last week's hearing on the bills for the two tribes, Dingell insisted that the legislation is not about off-reservation gambling, but about a legitimate land claim.

But Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) said, "Make no mistake -- these bills are Indian gaming bills and other tribes will ask for the same." Yesterday her colleague Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) saw his amendment to strip the bills of their gambling provisions go down to resounding defeat. "Dingell is very powerful," Heller said afterward.

Heller, Reid and other Nevada representatives are protective of the prerogatives of casino management companies there, including MGM Mirage, which just built an $800 million casino in Detroit.

Reid is strongly opposed to the casino legislation, but Michigan's Democratic senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl M. Levin, support it.

The Interior Department opposes the legislation because if Congress acts, the agency would not be able to assess the impact of the land-claim settlement on the environment or on other tribes. It also would circumvent the department's role in reviewing gambling compacts between tribes and the states. "It may provide a road map for others to follow," Carl Artman, assistant interior secretary for Indian affairs, told the committee.

Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MotorCity Casino's revenues down 2.8% over January '07

According to revenue data for January 2008 released by the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) and reported in the Detroit Free Press published 2.13.08:
MGM Grand was up a strong 13.2% over last year with $46,637,249 in income for the month, thanks in part to its new permanent facility that opened this fall. MotorCity came in second with $39,366,693, about a 2.8% decrease over last year.

House committee approves bill for off-reservation casino in Michigan

With 26 of 49 members of the House Committee on Natural Resources present at today's mark-up session on H.R. 2176 the committee voted 21 to 5 to approve the bill.

The bill, cloaked as a land claims settlement, will allow the Bay Mills Indian Community to build an off-reservation casino in Port Huron, Michigan, 350 miles away from the tribe's reservation. The tribe agrees to extinguish any claims to a 110-acre subdivision known as Charlotte Beach located east of the town of Barbeau on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Bay Mills Indian Community already has two gambling establishments on its Brimley, Michigan reservation.

Congressional hearing on off-reservation casinos postponed several hours

House Natural Resources Committee puts off casino vote until 1 p.m.

A vote on bills that would clear the road for a casino project in Port Huron and another in either Romulus, Flint or Monroe, Michigan originally scheduled for this morning has been postponed until 1 p.m. (eastern) due to bad weather in the nation's capital.

The 49 members of the House Natural Resources Committee will vote on whether to pass H.R. 2176 and H.R. 4115 out of committee where it would then receive a vote of the full House.

You can view (or listen to) the hearing live via Webcast by going to

EDITORIAL:Say no to a bad precedent on casinos


Say no to a bad precedent on casinos

Among John Engler's last acts as governor of Michigan -- on Dec. 30, 2002, to be precise -- was approving a land claim settlement with two Upper Peninsula Indian tribes that gave them rights to property for two separate casinos in southeast Michigan. The settlement was long overdue, but the terms Engler allowed were way too generous to the tribes.

Now, more than six years later, Congress is considering once again whether to go along, which would allow the casinos to be built in Romulus and Port Huron. While both communities could use the development and jobs, this deal sets a bad national precedent for "reservation shopping" by Indian tribes and ought to be rejected on that basis. Congress should act to protect established Department of Interior procedures for evaluating and designating reservation land.

Members of Congress from Michigan split on this during a committee hearing last week, based largely on the interests of communities in their districts, including those that already have gambling. It's hardly clear anymore what's in the best interest of Michigan as a whole, although it must be said that, unfortunately, the state has precious few businesses growing more substantially these days than casinos.

Gambling, however, is no strategic answer to Michigan's economic woes, and, while experts say the state has not yet reached its saturation point for gambling, it already has plenty of places where people can risk their money.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports the settlement and last fall signed the tribes to updated agreements that jack up what they must pay the state for casino operations in Michigan. The new rates range from 9%-14% of casino revenues as they grow, up from a flat 8% in the pact Engler signed. If Congress does decide to go along, that's certainly an improvement.

Whatever happens will surely not be the last word on expanded gambling in Michigan. For example, another tribal casino has opened in Battle Creek, and discussions are under way in Muskegon.

For Detroit, the issue is protection of three casinos that have become part of the city's economic lifeblood as major employers and tax generators. But they may not need it as they convert into plush operations with high-end hotels, very different from most tribal casinos.

Gambling's not going away, and it is certainly going to get bigger in Michigan. But the issue before Congress is less about that than about the model to be made for future tribal land claims.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 Listen to congressional testimony on off-reservation casinos in Michigan

Thanks to, you can listen to testimony provided at the February 6th hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee on the matters of H.R. 2176 and H.R. 4115.

Opening Statements
John D. Dingell | Bart Stupak | Don Young | Carolyn C. Kilpatrick | Mike Rogers | Candice S. Miller | John Conyers, Jr. | Shelley Berkley | Bennie G. Thompson | Q&A
Carl Artman | Q&A
Panel 2 | Q&A
Panel 3 | Q&A

Democrats on Capitol Hill divided by casinos


Democrats are divided by casinos

By Susan Crabtree

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is refereeing a vicious fight in her caucus over an expansion of Indian gambling in Michigan that is pitting Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) against members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

Both sides in the fight have traded charges of double-dealing and corruption akin to the Jack Abramoff Indian gambling scandals that helped hand Democrats the majority a little more than a year ago.

Seven members of Congress, including three committee chairmen showed up to testify for a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Wednesday aimed at clearing the way for Indian casinos in the Michigan towns of Romulus and Port Huron.

Dingell, a Democratic Party elder statesman and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) are pushing hard for the two proposed off-reservation casinos. They argue the areas are economically depressed and desperately need the jobs and revenue the casinos would bring.

But Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Democrat who represents Detroit and chairs the CBC, is vehemently opposed to the casinos and at least one of their proposed locations, near the Detroit airport.

Kilpatrick is deeply concerned that the Indian casinos would create unfair competition to three existing casinos in Detroit, which provided a crucial influx of $1.3 billion in revenue to the city in 2007. The Detroit casinos are helping the city battle its own economic woes, argued Kilpatrick and her son, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

Emotions over the issue can be raw. Last year, Carolyn Kilpatrick was furious after Rahall, who is supporting Dingell on the legislation, scheduled a markup on the bill just as Congress was trying to leave town for the winter recess.

Rahall failed to have a hearing on the matter or alert committee members and staffers that the legislation had gambling implications. Instead, he referred to the measures as land claims settlement bills, according to a Democratic staff memo about the markup dated Nov. 13.

When Kilpatrick discovered the gambling implications, she took quick action. According to two Democratic sources, she approached Pelosi on the House floor and told her that unless she stopped the bill from moving without a hearing being held, Pelosi would lose her support for a Democratic leadership bill aimed at ending the war. At the time, Pelosi needed the support of the caucus’s more liberal members, many in the CBC, who were threatening to sit out the vote because they didn’t believe it went far enough.

Kilpatrick said she was concerned about an attempt to attach it to a bill on the House floor without a hearing or a mark-up first. She said she and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who is concerned about possible implications for Nevada’s gaming industry, talked to Rahall and Pelosi and they agreed to hold a hearing in early 2008.

When asked specifically in an interview with The Hill this week whether Kilpatrick had threatened to yank her support for a Democratic Iraq bill, Kilpatrick refused to respond.

“I’m not going to deal with this journalism crap,” she said and hung up the phone.

Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow also support the measure while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joins Berkley in opposing it.

At this week’s hearing, two more prominent members of the CBC, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Homeland Security panel, also testified against the proposed casinos. Thompson, who like the Nevada politicians is concerned about setting a congressional precedent of granting tribes access to land hundreds of miles away from their reservation, deemed the move “reservation shopping.”

Conyers on Wednesday said that Judiciary would get involved in determining the legality of such ventures if the bill passed the House.

The legislation in question would resolve a century-old dispute, providing land to house two new casinos in exchange for the settling of 110 acres of land claims in an area called Charlotte Beach on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Dingell and Miller’s legislation would approve the land deals and allow the casinos to move forward. Rahall is set to mark up their measures on Wednesday.

The Interior Department opposes the legislation because it does not allow for proper consultation with neighboring tribes or local and state governments, said Carl Artman, assistant secretary for Indian affairs for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Richard Urey, Berkley’s chief of staff, refused to discuss closed-door discussions.

“We’ll do anything we can to respect the conventions of the Indian gaming act,” he said. “We hate to see the legislative process abused when we have standing law that should be abided by.”
Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami declined to comment on the substance of the issue, but emphasized that Rahall is following regular order by holding a markup. “We will wait until a markup is complete before having further conversations on this legislation.“

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.”

He called for an investigation in the “suspicious” settlement, saying the Bay Mills tribe “ginned up the land claim” at the request of an outside developer and “now seeks to put one over on Congress.”

Ilitch aircraft awfully busy flying to D.C., Kansas, California, Nevada and back to Detroit

This past month the Ilitch private aircraft #N559LC traveled from Detroit International Airport to Washington, D.C.; then onto Salina, Kansas; San Diego, California; Stockton, California; Reno, Nevada and then home to Detroit.

Ilitch pal, former Congressman turned lobbyist, Richard Pombo lives in the Stockton area and Barstow Mayor Lawrence Dale is from the Salina, Kansas area. The Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians are located in San Diego County, California.

San Bernardino County voters overwhelmingly supported expanded gaming measures

According to the Califonria Secretary of State's Web site, voters in San Bernardino County supported the four February 5th statewide ballot measures approving expanded gaming Compacts by overwhelming margins of 61% "yes" to 38% "no."

The measures were approved statewide by margins of 56% to 44%.

Sixteen northern California counties rejected gaming compacts

According the California Secretary of State's Web site, sixteen counties in California rejected four compacts for expanded gaming that were on the February 5th statewide ballot -- the four referenda on compacts passed by a wide margin (55.8% "yes" to 44.2% "no") statewide.

Among those rejecting gaming expansion were Humboldt County where the Big Lagoon Rancheria.

Port Huron casino may be a windfall for a few but taxpayers will end up footing the bill


Casino is latest self-serving project to be pushed on area

I have lived in this area for 25 years, and I have seen one misguided, self-serving project after another promoted in the guise of helping the local economy or improving the quality of life. All which yielded the same result: a windfall for relatively few private interests. Meanwhile, the city and the majority of the residents are left to foot the bill for the cost overruns, the cost of infrastructure improvements and still are left with - for the most part - totally inadequate facilities and limited, at best, economic impact.

Now the latest "savior" of Port Huron is the casino. No matter where it's built, it will make the landowners, contractors (with connections) and very few others a lot of money and leave the rest of us fighting for a few low-paying service jobs. The following is an excerpt from an economic study on the Wayland Casino near Grand Rapids prepared by the Anderson Economic Group:

"The casino will result in the creation of between 46 and 56 tourism-related jobs. We consider tourism-related jobs to be those jobs created through the expenditure from out-of-state visitors. This results in a minor overall effect on the economy.

"To support one job, it requires more expenditure at a casino than at the average noncasino establishment. This is because a large portion of the casino expenditure is directed (1) out of state, and (2) to uses that have a lesser spin-off effect on the economy."

So here we go again. The citizens of Port Huron have been sold another bill of goods by the "good ole boys," and I anticipate reading in TalkBack for years to come, comments such as, "Lied to again," and "Where's the casino money?"


Note: While the operators of Detroit commercial casinos are required to pay the City of Detroit 11.9% of net gaming revenues; those bankrolling the Port Huron off-reservation casino scheme have negotiated with Governor Jennifer Granholm to pay the City of Port Huron just 2% of net gaming revenues. By comparrison, this could leave tens of millions of dollars a year on the table that otherwise would go to the City of Port Huron -- further, the surrounding cities, townships and counties get nothing but will certainly feel the negative impacts.

Official NHL Web site advertises gambling tournament; event sign-up marries logos of Red Wings & MotorCity Casino

Detroit Red Wings' official NHL Web site advertises gambling tournment involving players and MotorCity Casino -- a Detroit gambling hall owned by Red Wings owner Marian Ilitch.

The NHL hosted Web site has a direct link to a sign-up form for the March 3rd gambling tournament that features a marrying of the Red Wings logo with the MotorCity Casino logo:

The sign-up form reads:
"The tables are heating up for MotorCity Casino’s Red Wings Charity Poker Tournament. Be part of the action on Monday, March 3 when the Wings ante up for charity in this Texas Hold’em format poker tournament.

"Don't be dealt a bad hand. Secure a spot at the table by filling out order form below or by calling 313-396-7524."

Red Wings advertise another gambling tournament at owner's MotorCity Casino


Red Wings
Take a chance at Wings poker

DETROIT -- Try your luck against the Red Wings in a friendly game of poker.
The Wings will be holding a charity Texas hold'em poker tournament at Motor City Casino on March 3. Fans need to make a $500 donation to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation to participate.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception at 4:30 p.m. in the Iridescence restaurant, and the action moves to the Poker Room at 6 p.m.

Prizes will be awarded to the top 10 finishers, including a grand prize trip for two with the team on Red Bird II to the March 25 game in St. Louis for the winner. Second place is worth a suite for a Wings home game during the regular season. The third-place finisher will receive four tickets to a Wings game.

For more information, call (313) 396-7524 or go to

Barstow's State Senator blames Gov. Schwarzenegger for failure to ratify casino agreements

As posted on the Web site of California State Senator Patricia Wiggins, who was the author of a bill, SB 157, to ratify compacts for BarWest casinos in Barstow:
Barstow’s state senator Roy Ashburn blamed the failure to pass the compacts on a "noticeable lack of will on the part of the governor [Arnold Schwarzenegger]." He said that although he would consider sponsoring the compacts next year in the legislature, he expected that fierce opposition would continue.

After fighting expanded gaming compacts, Tom Shields changes his tune about approach to Barstow Casino

As posted 2.11.08 at The Roundup:

..."Across California, wannabe casino tribes and their investors are feeling invigorated by voters' approval Tuesday of ballot referendums to give four rich Southern California tribes permission to add up to 17,000 slot machines," reports Peter Hecht in the Bee.

"They are also excited by Schwarzenegger's public statements that he is ready to deal on new gambling agreements with additional tribes that agree to pay a "fair share" of casino revenue into the state's general fund.

"Among the first in line may be the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians of San Diego County. The tribe -- whose poverty was dramatized in television commercials for 1990 and 2000 ballot measures legalizing tribal gambling in California" has fought unsuccessfully for 2 1/2 years to get a casino in Barstow.

"Now the tribe and wealthy backers, including Marian Ilitch, Detroit Red Wings and MotorCity Casino owner, are eager for another appointment with Schwarzenegger.

"'We will attempt to go back and renegotiate with the governor and go to the Legislature and say the people obviously support an expansion of gambling if it will provide revenues to the state,' said Tom Shields, spokesman for Los Coyotes and the Barstow casino group, BarWest Gaming. 'We are more than willing to be a part of that.'

"The governor signed controversial 2005 gambling agreements that would have allowed Los Coyotes and the Big Lagoon tribe – 700 miles away in Mendocino County – to build 2,000-slot casinos in Barstow. Opposition from major Southern California casino tribes helped kill the deal in the Legislature and, politically, the Barstow development remains problematic."

NOTE: Representatives of BarWest LLC and the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla Indians -- including Tom Shields -- fought against ratification of the four Indian Gaming agreements voters approved on February 5th. In fact, Shields took credit for stalling legislative approval of the agreements in August 2006.

Full story at Sacramento Bee:

Monday, February 11, 2008

EDITORIAL: Gov. Patrick gets tough over casinos


Patrick gets tough over casinos

Efforts by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to place its planned casino site in Middleborough in a federal trust are more likely to end in a drawn-out fight than a healthy payoff for either the tribe or the residents of Massachusetts. The Patrick administration is right to resist the Wampanoags' efforts and to encourage the tribe instead to bid for a state-issued casino license.

The tribe, which won federal recognition last year, is now seeking to establish official sovereignty over more than 500 acres, which would place it largely outside the state's jurisdiction. The Patrick administration has sent an 125-page objection to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, arguing that the tribe has failed to provide adequate safeguards in such areas as zoning, public safety, labor, consumer protection, and the environment. These are substantive issues, but the real message is that the administration is serious about following its own casino plan.

Patrick proposes sensible legislation that would license three destination casinos across the state. The plan is carefully crafted to generate new jobs and new tax revenues, including an estimated $600 million to $900 million in one-time licensing fees and about $400 million in annual revenue. The proposal even offers special consideration to casino developers who join with federally recognized Indian tribes from Massachusetts. The Wampanoags' gambit could weaken this well-designed plan by diluting the worth of the licenses and reducing the state's take. And it opens the door to the snarled world of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which poses risks for the tribe as well as the state.

The 1988 law, known as IGRA, provides the statutory framework for tribal gambling. But what, if anything, gets built on that framework is far from predictable. It often takes years for an Indian casino proposal to wind its way through the Department of Interior. More complicated still is the requirement that the tribe and the state negotiate a compact that can cover oversight, payments in lieu of taxes, and methods to handle civil and criminal matters. Such negotiations often break down when one side accuses the other of failure to negotiate in good faith.

The bramble of IGRA-related court cases should serve as a warning. Some decisions place few restrictions on the kinds of gambling that tribes can offer on their land, including full-fledged casinos in states where slots and table games are prohibited. Other decisions leave the tribe with little recourse if it believes a state has failed to negotiate in good faith. One day, the wind blows toward tribal self-determination. The next day, it shifts in the direction of state sovereign immunity. And the secretary of the Interior, not a state's elected officials, calls the final shot.

The federal law is too big a crap shoot. Massachusetts - and the tribe - can do better.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Little River Band talking off-reservation casino in Muskegon, MI


Muskegon officials to hear another casino pitch

Posted by Robert C. Burns The Muskegon Chronicle

Just a little over a month after Muskegon officials heard a casino proposal from an Upper Peninsula Indian tribe, they'll be listening to another on Monday -- this one from closer to home.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, which runs the Little River Casino just outside Manistee, have asked to give a presentation at the city commission's monthly work session, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the commission chambers at city hall.

Little is known about the proposal at this point, and casino officials aren't saying anything in advance. Mayor Steve Warmington, a casino supporter who has been in occasional contact with Little River officials, said Thursday that he did not know what they have in mind.

"I don't have any idea," he said. "All I know is they're planning to make a Powerpoint presentation to the commission on Monday."

In a similar setting on Jan. 7, the commission heard a proposal from the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewas. In a nutshell, the proposal involved a $10 milllion conversion of the former SPX headquarters building into a casino on the downtown shoreline of Muskegon Lake.

At the time, Larry Romanelli, ogema or leader of the Little River Band, told The Chronicle his tribe was willing to consider a partnership with the Lac Vieux Desert Band in developing a Muskegon casino. In any case, Romanelli said the Little River interests would soon be presenting their own casino proposal to Muskegon's elected leaders.

Warmington said he would not allow Monday's session to turn into a public debate over casino gambling in Muskegon. He took the same stance during the Lac Vieux visit, and was helped in that regard by a tornado warning near the end of the meeting that sent all present scurrying for the basement.

"What I would prefer to do is ask everyone against a casino to raise their hands, and everyone for a casino raise their hands, and get on with it," the mayor said.

Also up for discussion at Monday's work session will be a Lac Vieux request from a month ago for a municipal services agreement with the city. Such an agreement would be needed for the tribe to operate a casino on sovereign territory with police and fire services provided by the city.

Depending on how that part of the discussion goes, the agreement could come up for a vote on Tuesday, when the city commission meets in regular session at 5:30 p.m.

The mayor, however, has already said he is not interested in entering into an exclusive agreement with any specific group at this point, and other members of the commission generally feel the same way.

Local labor leader has been behind Port Huron casino schemes for 15 years


Labor leader sees casino as Port Huron’s best bet

Times Herald

If a casino does open in Port Huron, and the odds look about as long as drawing for an inside straight, they should put a bronze bust of Dick Cummings in the lobby.

Cummings is president of the Michigan Machinists, a former leader of the county AFL-CIO and a tireless laborer in the vineyards of the United Way of St. Clair County. He’s also a founding father of the effort to bring a casino to Michigan’s easternmost city.

Fifteen years ago, he supported the campaign to put a gambling den in the downtown Sears building, left empty in 1989 when the retailer shuffled off to Birchwood Mall. That effort failed on July 13, 1993, when city voters rejected it, 5,120 to 4,751.

Seven years later, Cummings and Don Reynolds, owner of the Thomas Edison Inn, led a second campaign. They launched it a few weeks after the Point Edward casino opened directly across the St. Clair River, maybe a 3-wood from the inn’s front lawn.

Many people who opposed the casino in 1993, and I count myself among them, had changed their minds by 2000. The folks feeding the slots in Point Edward didn’t exactly look like gangsters and degenerates. In fact, they looked a lot like us.

That’s because they were, of course. Then and now, the majority of visitors to Point Edward and Hiawatha Slots were middle-class Michiganders out for dinner and a giggle. No harm. No foul. No fear.

In the summer of 2001, a second casino advisory vote won approval, 3,111 to 2,628.

■ For 6½ years, Cummings has been a warrior for the casino. It’s a crusade, a jihad, a holy war of sorts.

His quest begins and ends with jobs. Early on, he won a promise from the casino developers that they would hire locally and pay union wages.

Port Huron’s unemployment rate has been in double digits for most of the Bush presidency. This past Christmas, one of every seven workers in the city was jobless. In rough numbers, the local unemployment rate is double the state average and triple the national average.

So much for statistics. From his office at the United Way, Cummings has seen the suffering behind those numbers. He can tell you of mothers who go hungry so their babies can eat, and of fathers who put off medical care until the ambulance arrives. He can tell you of desperation and despair, heartbreak and horror, homelessness and hopelessness.

He can slice through your heart with nothing sharper than the truth, and bring you to your knees with nothing heavier than a prayer.

“Most people don’t want a handout,” he says. “They want a job.”

Amen, Dick. Amen.

■ Year after year, the economy worsens, the jobs disappear and our government does the one thing it does best.


Speeches we’ve heard, all sass and sanctimony. Games we’ve watched, ruses and ploys. What we’ve heard isn’t too hopeful. What we’ve seen isn’t much progress. After 6½ years, a Port Huron casino bill has yet to earn a vote from a congressional committee, although that may change this week.

What hasn’t changed is the strength of the opposition.

In 2002, it was Nevada’s Harry Reid, now the most powerful individual on Capitol Hill, who put the kibosh on Debbie Stabenow’s bill in the Senate. A series of bills in the House have been shot down by influential Republicans, including Brighton’s Mike Rogers and the shameless Tom Delay, self-styled czar of K Street.

The fact that Jack Abramoff was paid $14 million and change to nuke the Port Huron bill, among other chores, may or may not be relevant. You decide.

The good news is Abramoff has gone away for a spell — five years and 10 months without a show of good behavior. The bad news is his old clients had no problem buying new help. In the past week, Port Huron’s opponents have launched a couple of advertising campaigns that smell worse than Chemical Valley in an east wind.

In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, one would think our representatives in Washington could see through such blatant deceit and manipulation. If they can’t, then God help us, because no one else will.

■ Last week, Cummings hopped over to Washington to watch the House Natural Resources Committee debate the Stupak-Miller bill.

“I think it went well,” he said on his return, “even though Detroit was there in full force.”

The casino’s most intractable opponents begin with Kwame and his Mommy — Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, leader of the influential Congressional Black Caucus.

The Saginaw Chippewa, who made Abramoff a multi-millionaire, continue to bankroll the opposition. So does MGM Mirage, the gambling empire built by Kirk Kerkorian, who’s 90 and has amassed a billion dollars for each of his nine decades.

In one way or another, most of the players have money riding on the outcome.

Many of the supporters have received generous campaign contributions from casino promoter Mike Malik and his good friends, the Ilitch family. Most of the opponents have profited from knowing the fine people at MGM, which owns the most profitable of Detroit’s three casinos, and the Saginaw Chippewa, owner of the most profitable of Michigan’s 20 casinos.

■ If I were a betting man — and anything more than 10 minutes at a slot machine is my idea of purgatory — I’d say the odds of Dick Cummings seeing himself in bronze are slim.

Approval from the 49-member Natural Resources Committee is anything but certain, and that’s only the first of many hurdles. On the floor of the House, the measure would not receive a vote without the blessings of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, who are more than a little concerned at the threat to Democratic solidarity, an oxymoron even in the best of times.

Should the measure win approval in the House, a companion bill would need to wend its way through the Senate and Harry Reid’s tender mercies. And even then, legal challenges are all but promised by Detroiters who believe that if their city loses even one dollar to Port Huron, it is one dollar too many.

For all this, Cummings sounded optimistic Friday when we chatted. His belief is that Port Huron has facts on its side while what the opposition mostly has is greed.

“Hopefully, it gets to the House floor and gets thoroughly debated,” he said. “Detroit is ganging up on us, but facts are facts. People with more common sense are seeing through the smoke.”

And what about the Senate?

“I think we’re going to get there,” he said. “Senator (Carl) Levin and Senator (Debbie) Stabenow are in full support, and so is the governor. I think we’ll get a fair hearing.”

It almost seems too much to ask.

Columnist Mike Connell can be reached at (810) 989-6259 or

Criminal concerns, investigations called for at Congressional hearing on Michigan off-reservation casinos

excerpted from a story posted 2.10.08 by the Port Huron Times Herald:

Criminal concerns
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his mother, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, were among those who testified against the bills. They argued that casinos in Romulus and Port Huron would threaten the profitability of Detroit’s three casinos at a cost of jobs and city revenues.

It was the embattled mayor’s first appearance on Capitol Hill in the two weeks since the text-and-sex scandal broke. He appeared at ease, and his mother gave him rave reviews.

“Brilliant as always, son,” she said just before the mayor left to catch his plane. “Now go do your job.”

As the 3fi-hour hearing closed, Rep. Kilpatrick raised questions about the legality of the legislation and cautioned her colleagues: “We don’t want to be party to anything criminal.”

Tomion scoffed at the notion of illegality.

He noted the committee’s senior members — Rahall, Young and Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint — are leading experts on Indian law. All three support the legislation.

“The leadership of the committee is very aware of what the laws are,” Tomion said. “I don’t think that argument had any impact with them at all. … To a certain extent, the tactics of the opponents are hurting them. It’s become pretty clear that greed is the primary motivation of our opponents.”

Inquiry being sought
Mike Malik, a former Algonac councilman and a promoter of the Port Huron casino, noted the bills involve land-settlement claims drafted by a Republican governor in 2002 and amended by a Democratic governor in 2007.

John Engler is a lawyer and signed this agreement. Our current governor, Jennifer Granholm, is a lawyer and was the attorney general of this state,” Malik said. “For someone to even suggest these are illegal documents is ludicrous.”

Fred Cantu, the chief of the Saginaw Chippewa, indicated he would ask the Interior Department to investigate the Engler-Granholm deals for possible fraud.

Malik said federal investigators might do better to look at the tactics of the lobbyists and public-relations specialists employed by the Saginaw Chippewa and MGM Mirage. He recalled how the Saginaw Chippewa paid more than $14 million to Jack Abramoff, a disgraced Republican lobbyist who worked to kill earlier Port Huron casino bills.

Abramoff is now in prison, but Malik accused opponents of using “Abramoff-like tactics. … They’re spending millions of dollars and spilling all this misinformation and garbage to make it look like this is not legitimate and to confuse the issue.”

He said casino supporters are working to provide committee members with facts.

“If people truly read the information and truly follow the law, there is no way not to support this,” he said. “If they’ll see through the lies and the garbage, the true legal facts speak for themselves.” (
Full Story)

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