Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Dykema Law Firm: the legal team behind the Bay Mills, Los Coyotes & Shinnecock Indian casino schemes

By Randy J. Stine

The gaming law attorneys at Dykema in Downtown Lansing know it’s a bit of a gamble to try and get a casino built these days.The extensive regulatory system established in Michigan, under the Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act, makes the casino development process long and tedious.

“To say it is not easy to complete a casino project here in Michigan or anywhere else is an understatement,” says Jason Hanselman, an attorney specializing in gaming law at Dykema. “These projects can take from five to 10 years to complete.”

Dykema, which has just over 20 employees at its Lansing office, has been involved in nearly every aspect of casino gaming in Michigan, including the development of casino gaming on Native American land and the implementation of Proposal E that gained voter approval in 1996 and brought commercial casinos to Detroit.

“We actually helped draft the language in Proposal E in the mid-‘90s. Once it passed we worked to draft the final statute and regulations to implement casino gaming in Detroit,” Hanselman says.

The firm’s gaming law division assists clients on every aspect of casino gaming regulation, from contracts to real estate acquisitions to licensing and finally navigating the state and national regulatory process. “Michigan is known to have the most rigid gaming licensing processes in the country. [Michigan] prides itself on being the most rigorous licensing and regulatory jurisdiction,” Hanselman says.

Dykema attorneys are typically hired by a casino developer who in turn works in partnership with one of the Native American tribes, to get a project rolling. Hanselman explains, “It’s a gamble for the developers from the onset. They’ll pour a lot of money into projects that may never ever happen for whatever reason. There are lots of hurdles. ”

Michigan’s 19 tribal casinos, along with three commercial casinos in Detroit, operate under the authority of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Casino development in this state and elsewhere has been a huge area of economic growth over the past decade, Hanselman says. “It’s really a sign of the economic times. A lot of states see casinos as another source of revenue. It’s a chance to create a new tax base. Ohio recently enacted casino gaming and Illinois is moving in that direction.”

Gambling is no longer the big societal taboo, either, since you can now watch poker three nights a week on ESPN, he adds.

While development of tribal casinos in Michigan has slowed a bit recently, partly due to the maturity of the industry, charitable gaming has exploded, Hanselman says. “Michigan law allows nonprofit groups to obtain licenses to run millionaire parties. These groups raise a lot of money through fundraising. It’s been a huge growth area for us the past two years. We help nonprofits secure licenses, which they use as part of their fundraising activities. The demand [for licenses] is high,” he says.

Dykema’s Lansing office, which sits adjacent to Michigan’s Capitol Building in Downtown Lansing, also has Michigan offices in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Bloomfield Hills and Grand Rapids. In addition, Dykema has offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Hanselman, who joined Dykema in 2001, works closely with Lance Boldrey on gaming issues at the firm. Boldrey, former deputy legal counsel to former Michigan Gov. John Engler, focuses on Indian law and is involved in lobbying federal and state decision makers.

Boldrey currently is working closely with a developer in New York on a casino project near New York City involving the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

“[Dykema] is currently working with them on site selection, so it is still in the predevelopment stage, but this could turn out to be one of the largest casinos in the country. We are optimistic we could be within a year or two of breaking ground. We also worked to have the Shinnecock tribe federally recognized, which happened last fall,” Hanselman says. “There are many, many facets to completing such a large project.”

Internet gaming and online poker will be the next big development in the gaming world, Hanselman predicts. In April, federal authorities shut down three of the largest offshore online poker sites and now there is a renewed effort to legalize and regulate Internet gambling in this country, he says.

“In fact, in Washington the group of 12 U.S. senators in charge of finding some $1.5 trillion in debt savings are eyeing Internet poker as a one of the means to doing it, so it’s coming. I think it is inevitable,” Hanselman adds.

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