Saturday, February 23, 2008

Was Michael Malik involved with Rep. Renzi's land schemes?


Renzi and Republicans

Extortion and money laundering are usually the province of gangsters, not Western Congressmen. That changed yesterday with the indictment of GOP Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona on charges that he used his seat on the House Natural Resources Committee to enrich himself through a trail of payoffs on land deals.

Prosecutors allege that Mr. Renzi used his clout to push land sales that could then be traded for other property owned by the federal government. Companies that wanted to trade acreage in exchange for federal land they considered promising for mining opportunities were encouraged to buy property belonging to one of Mr. Renzi's business partners. In return, they were promised a smooth ride with the committee on the land swaps. When the sales went through, the Congressman allegedly got a cut of the proceeds from his pal, at least $733,000.

Mr. Renzi has already said he isn't seeking re-election this year, and his lawyer said yesterday that "We will fight these charges until he is vindicated." But the indictment alone will remind many voters of the kind of corruption and arrogance that contributed to the GOP's defeat in 2006. Other Republicans are still under investigation for misusing Congressional power, and further indictments can't be ruled out.

The Renzi episode is the residue of what might be called the Tom DeLay era of Congressional rule, when keeping power for its own sake became the GOP goal. Current Republican leaders, now and perhaps for years to come in the minority, tell us they resent our antiearmarking editorials. But Republicans aren't going to win back voter trust if they don't once again become the party of reform and modest government, instead of dubious land swaps.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ilitch Holdings building management monopoly over Detroit entertainment venues


Ilitch entertainment muscle

With the agreement to operate the Masonic Temple, Ilitch Holdings Inc. now controls entertainment venues of almost every size in downtown Detroit.

City Theater: Located inside the Hockeytown Café, small auditorium has 500 seats.

Loyal Order of Moose: A long-empty Cass Avenue club with a 1,500-person capacity, purchased quietly last year.

Soundboard: The theater being built at the MotorCity Casino described as "House of Blues-type venue" with a capacity that recently was expanded to 1,800 seats.

Fox Theatre: The converted movie palace seats 5,000 and also is home to the headquarters of Ilitch Holdings Inc.

Masonic Temple: The debt-ridden landmark includes two auditoriums. The main chamber seats 4,300; Scottish Rites hall seats 1,600.

Cobo Arena: The classic downtown hotspot for concerts seats 12,191.

Joe Louis Arena: Besides being the home of Red Wings hockey, the Joe can seat 20,058 for concerts.

Comerica Park: The baseball park can host stadium-size shows, with some 30,000 seats.

Source: Olympia Entertainment

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Editorial: Be careful not to kill golden casino goose


Be careful not to kill golden casino goose

As federal lawmakers decide whether to approve two new Indian casinos in Michigan -- one in Port Huron and one in Romulus -- they ought to consider the interests of Michigan's largest city and whether more casinos will make the gambling pie bigger or just reduce the size of the pieces.

Revenues from casinos in the Detroit budget are pegged at close to $200 million, and the city depends on the money. Casino taxes have become one of the larger single sources of revenue for Detroit.

City officials fear that new casinos, particularly the one proposed adjacent to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, would drain some of that revenue from Detroit.

Congress is considering whether to approve the transfer of land in Michigan for Indian casinos as part of a long-simmering set of land claims from Indian tribes in the Upper Peninsula. Both former Gov. John Engler and Gov. Jennifer Granholm have signed off on the deal, which would swap the land and casinos in the Lower Peninsula as settlement for the tribal land claims.

Detroit's major political figures -- Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and U.S. Reps. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick and John Conyers -- oppose the deal. Some other Michigan congressional delegation members, including John Dingell, D-Dearborn, support it.

But more than political geography plays a role here.

The Indian tribe that owns Detroit's Greektown casino would also own the Romulus casino. Another band of Indians, the Saginaw Chippewas, which owns a casino in Mount Pleasant, opposes this legislation. The MGM casino operation, headquartered in Las Vegas and which operates a casino in Detroit, opposes the deal, as do powerful Nevada politicians.

Casinos were first proposed for Detroit more than a decade ago to help it compete with Windsor, which hosts government-sponsored casinos, and to shore up its ailing economy. Since then, casinos, including Indian operations, have proliferated. In addition to the three casinos in Detroit and gaming operations across the river in Canada, another 17 Indian casinos are sprinkled throughout the state, with more possibly on the way.

And periodically, racetrack owners make a run at the Legislature to install slot machines at their tracks, while the state Lottery has installed Keno games in bars throughout Michigan. Even so, one expert analyst, Jacob Miklojcik, says there is still room for gaming to grow in Michigan -- though he concedes the state may soon reach the saturation point.

Where that point lies should be carefully examined before new casinos are approved. The casinos' revenues have risen in Detroit to $1.3 billion from a bit more than $1 billion in 2001.

Meanwhile, the federal Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs see this legislation as opening the floodgates to bypass them and the Indian Gaming Regulation Act.

With Detroit's political leaders worried about economic damage from the casinos, and the federal agency that regulates Indian affairs worried that this type of legislation could set off a scramble by other tribes to secure off-reservation gaming sites, Congress should handle this bill with care.
It should go slow on this legislation and urge Michigan's leaders to explore other ways of settling the tribes' land claims. The furiously competing political interests, inter-tribal conflict and cross-claims show the dangers of carving out yet more ways to set up casinos.

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Op-Ed: Clash over Indian casinos


Clash over Indian casinos

Syndicated Columnist

The quest on Capitol Hill by two Upper Peninsula tribes to gain downstate land for casinos is grandly described by the Washington Post as "a fierce multimillion lobbying battle of a scale not seen since fall of Jack Abramoff" -- imprisoned defrauder of American Indians and others.

But U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, whose district includes homelands of two of the combatants -- the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians -- calls the description "highly overstated." In a phone interview, he said the legislation, approved by the House Natural Resources Committee last week, is not so much a "titanic battle" on the national scene as it is "a Michigan delegation food fight" among members "trying to protect their own turf."

Two top delegation titans are on opposite sides of the legislation that would settle century-old land claims by allowing casinos in Romulus and Port Huron in exchange for the settling of 110 acres of land claims around Charlotte Beach in the Upper Peninsula.

House Dean John Dingell, D-Dearborn, powerful chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and mentor of Stupak, who heads the committee's high-visibility Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is in favor of the legislation. Dingell, whose district includes Romulus, insists that the issue is about a legitimate land claim.

Among those allied with Democrats Stupak and Dingell on this issue is Rep. Candice Miller, R-Macomb County, who represents Port Huron. (Now a faint blip on the crystal ball, but Miller and Stupak are potential opposing contenders for governor in 2010.)

In committee testimony on the legislation earlier this month, Miller said: "Much of the opposition is based purely on greed. Now that the city of Detroit has theirs, they don't want anyone else to have one."

Against the legislation is House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, who's allied with the Congressional Black Caucus and beleaguered Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick of Detroit, site of three commercial casinos.

The Interior Department opposes the legislation, saying it would circumvent its role in reviewing gambling compacts between tribes and the states.

Quite possibly the opponent to be most feared by supporters of the legislation is Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., whose Las Vegas constituents include gaming managers with big stakes in Detroit casinos. Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow support the legislation.

This is more than an intramural Michigan food fight. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, who supports the legislation and is co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said in the Washington Post: "It'll be a real lobbying effort on both sides. Whenever you combine gaming and money to be made, you find a lot of people interested who were never interested in Indians before." The Post said: "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. 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 paper said the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which operates the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, "and sees the legislation as a threat to its business, has given $394,000." Also at play here, as it has been through the ages, is whether deals made will be deals kept. The state made a deal on this with the tribes in 2002, but the feds have the final word on this.

Ilitch organization to take over management of Detroit's Masonic Temple


Ilitch's Olympia Entertainment takes over Masonic Temple management

Robert Snell / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Mike Ilitch-owned Olympia Entertainment will announce Tuesday that it has taken over management of the Masonic Temple under a deal aimed at expanding his family's sports and entertainment empire and saving the tax-ridden landmark, which faces foreclosure March 1.

The deal gives Olympia Entertainment a bigger piece of the local concert and performance industry -- and rescues an imperiled architectural gem that owes $123,455 in delinquent property taxes, according to the Wayne County Treasurer's office.

"It's a good deal for the masons, it's a good deal for Ilitch --he's going to make a bunch of money --and it's a good deal for us because we have a home and don't have to worry about taxes," Masonic Temple Association President Bill Betz said.

Under the deal, the Masonic Temple Association will continue to own the landmark while Olympia will manage all of the facility's commercial operations, book shows and concerts.

The deal also is expected to generate enough cash for temple owners to stave off property foreclosure, and pay off unpaid taxes dating to 2005. A $27,326 delinquent water and sewer bill was paid Jan. 28, according to the city.

Olympia Entertainment President Dana Warg will be available to discuss the deal Tuesday, an Olympia representative said. Warg was hired last year after serving as a vice president with sports and entertainment promoter AEG. He oversaw day-to-day booking and operations of venues that included the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Ilitch, a pizza baron who along with wife Marian, owns Little Caesars Pizza. He also owns the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings and has created a sprawling sports and entertainment district along Woodward, south of Interstate 75, that includes Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre, Hockeytown Cafe and the potential site of a new Joe Louis Arena. His wife's separately owned MotorCity Casino is a few blocks west of the Masonic. Olympia and the Masons have been negotiating for more than one year.

Betz did not disclose the financial details or say when the deal was signed, but said the long-term lease runs for more than five years "and less than 20."

The 14 lodges that meet at the temple will continue to do so and all bills will be paid by Olympia, Betz said.

"As far as the lodges are concerned, nothing changes," Betz said.

The Masonic Temple opened in 1926 and was considered by some the region's entertainment epicenter. It has hosted a vast roster of rock stars and Broadway musicals, from the White Stripes to "Wicked" in either its 1,600-seat theater or the 4,400-seat Main Theatre, only slightly smaller than downtown's Fox Theatre, which has some 5,000 seats.

Business has plummeted in recent years as other Masonic organizations have relocated and former management firm, Nederlander Detroit, had booked fewer plays, musicals and concerts -- about 50 a year, down from 120 several years ago, Betz said.

An Ilitch foothold at the Masonic Temple could trigger redevelopment along the lower Cass Corridor.

"It could be the anchor of redeveloping that whole area," said Patrick Dorn, executive director of the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp. which rehabilitates and builds affordable housing nearby.

One key would be linking the Masonic and MotorCity by an elevated tram so casino-goers could watch a show at the temple and shuttle back to the gambling venue, Dorn said.

He said if Ilitch managed to develop apartments or lofts within the temple's upper floors, it could lead to perhaps a grocery story opening nearby.

"It has to be something more than just shows," Dorn said.

You can reach Robert Snell at (313) 222-2028 or

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In Detroit MGM Casino revenues up 15%; MotorCity Casino, Greektown revenues fell


Casino revenue up

Total revenue for Detroit's three casinos was $113.5 million for January, a 3.8 percent increase from the same month a year ago, but total taxes paid to the state and city of Detroit decreased by $1.35 million, as MGM Grand Detroit benefited from a tax rollback.

As permanent casinos open, wagering taxes paid to the state drop from 12.1 percent to 8.1 percent and taxes paid to the city of Detroit go from 11.9 percent to 10.9 percent.

The Michigan Gaming Control Board reported MGM had revenue of $46.6 million, up 15.1 percent from January 2007. MotorCity Casino had revenue of almost $39.4 million, down 2.7 percent. Greektown Casino reported revenue of $27.5 million, down 3.2 percent.

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