Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Detroit Casino Syndicators: Strather, Celani, Malik & Ilitch

Herb StratherTom CelaniMichael Malik & Marian Ilitch were among those who pushed for commercial gambling in Detroit in the mid 1990s.  They were also chief backers of Detroit’s MotorCity Casino.  However, in 1999 Malik and Strather failed to receive gaming licenses from the Michigan Gaming Control Board and were among those forced to divest themselves of any interest in MotorCity Casino before the gambling hall opened its doors to the public.

Herb Strather
Strather’s original Detroit-based Atwater casino syndication moved on to form AtMashpee LLC and push the Recognition and Cape Cod casino development plans of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Another Strather affiliate Maushop LLC purchased 28 acres of land on Cape Cod. Strather would later reveal that South African casino moguls Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman were the primary investors in the Mashpee venture. And in 2008, further controversy ensued when Mashpee tribal chairman Glenn Marshall admitted to federal investigators that Strather had funneled $4 million to him which was used in an illegal political contributions scheme and to pay personal bills.

In 2005, Ilitch bought out Celani, Mirage Resorts and others who were part of the original MotorCity Casino syndication.

Tom Celani
Celani, a one-time beer distributor, organized Luna Entertainment.  He had been a founder of Sodak Gaming, Inc. which was acquired by International Game Technology.  He subsequently was licensed for gaming in Nevada and took over management of the famed Cal-Neva Casino previously owned by Frank Sinatra and frequented by Sinatra's "Rat Pack" entertainment pals.

Among other gaming facilities, Celani has since become licensed to own/operate, the Fortune Valley Hotel and Casino (CO), Red Dolly Casino (CO), Rolling Hills Casino (CA), and the Kiowa Red River Casino (OK). Of those Detroiters behind the original MotorCity Casino syndication and relative to the breadth of his gaming involvement, Celani has been the least controversial and most successful opening or acquiring new casinos outside of Michigan. Celani Profile.

Despite Malik's 1999 failure to obtain a gaming license in Michigan, Malik and Ilitch have continued as business partners. They have been relentless in their pursuits to develop and manage Indian casinos in partnership with the Bay Mills Indian Community (MI), Los Coyotes Band of Indians (CA), Big Lagoon Rancheria (CA), Shinnecock Indian Nation (NY) spending millions on lobbying, political campaign contributions and legal work. 

Similar to Strather’s AtMashpee LLC group, Malik/Ilitch organized Gateway Casino Resorts to bankroll Federal Recognition of the Shinnecock Nation.  And like Strather, they believe that investment bought them the rights to develop and manage any future Shinnecock gaming facility. Currently they are banking on approval of plans to develop a Shinnecock casino and hotel at Belmont Racetrack on Long Island (NY). 

Although Malik/Ilitch gambling pursuits have been many and they have organized dozens of affiliates to bankroll Native American casino development plans in three states, Malik/Ilitch have failed to successfully open any new gambling facilities since Malik failed to earn a gaming license and they parted company with Celani.  

Further, while chasing casino development opportunities with Ilitch, Malik has been involved in numerous controversies including: a federal ponzi scheme case; defaults on both property taxes and a $1 million line of credit; and multiple violations of California political campaign contribution laws.

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Ilitch has backed loosing sports teams and pizza, but casinos in Detroit? Forbes.com 10.09.06 ● Marian Ilitch #1 on "25 Most Powerful People" to Watch 2006” global gaming business o1.oo.o5 ● My Kingdom for a Casino Forbes 05.08.06 ● Big Lagoon’s casino dream awakens north coast journal 07.28.05 ● Shinnecocks launch legal claim to Hamptons land newsday.com 06.16.05 ● Ilitch Plans to Expand Casino Empire RGTonline.com 07.05.05 ● Ilitch outbids partners MichiganDaily.com 04.14.05 ● Ilitch enmeshed in NY casino dispute detnews.com 03.20.05 ● Marian Ilitch, high roller freep.com 03.20.05 ● MGM Mirage to Decide on Offer for Casino in Detroit rgtonline.com 04.16.05 ● Secret deal for MotorCity alleged freep.com 02.15.05 ● Los Coyotes get new developer desertdispatch.com 02.08.05 Detroit casino figure to finance Barstow project LasVegasSun.com 07.07.03 ● Indian Band trying to put casino in Barstow signonSanDiego.com 06.04.03 Pizza matriarch takes on casino roles detnews.com 10.23.02 ● Vanderbilt gets short straw in negotiations for a casino Lansing Journal 10.06.02 ● Indians aim to drive family from tribe in vicious dispute san diego union tribune 04.09.00 ●Malik owns 2000 Michigan Quarter Horse of the Year Michigan.gov 01.01.00 ● Detroit Team to run Michigan’s newest Indian casino detnews.com 05.23.99 Tiger ties tangle Marian Ilitch detnews.com 04.29.99 ● Three investors must sell their Detroit casino interests gamblingmagazine.com 04.25.99 ● Partners’ cash revived election; They say money was crucial to Prop-E detnews.com 04.25.99 Investors have troubled histories las vegas review journal 04.27.99 ● Investor served probation for domestic assault on 12 year old boy detnews.com 04.25.99 Can a pair win a jackpot?: local men hope to... crainsdetroit.com 03.17.97

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