SHOPPING FOR MICHIGAN CASINOS
PART 2 of 2
April 13, 2008
Shortly after Jan. 1, 2008, Gov. Granholm cut a new deal with the Bay Mills tribe that provides them with an alternative 19.6-acre site in Port Huron at Desmond Landing, a mile-long piece of St. Claire riverfront property amassed by wealthy philanthropist James Acheson. His plans are for his development corporation to turn the area into a “walkable,”“Cool City” community.
The alternative was purportedly offered because it seems there’s now some concern about the originally selected 12.5-acre Edison Inn property. It’s thought that perhaps the Dept. of Homeland Security will frown on a new tribal casino and high-rise hotel so close to the department’s proposed $443 million border-inspection plaza expansion planned for the American side of the Blue Water Bridge that connects Michigan with Canada.
When negotiating her new deal, the governor also managed to sweeten the State’s stake in the tribal gaming pot by convincing the Bay Mills tribe negotiators to agree to change the State’s take from a flat 8% to a sliding scale of 9% to 13% depending on how well the tribe’s new Port Huron casino does based on its “net win”. “Net win” is the amount the casino rakes in from slots and other electronic games minus the amount it pays out in winnings, and Granholm has said publicly that because of this new deal the “cash-strapped state would see its share of annual revenues increase by $20 to $30 million, depending on how successful the facility is.” Perhaps she should have modified that to claim that the Michigan Strategic Fund would see the additional revenues rather than the taxpaying citizens, as implied.
Rep. Stupak’s HR-2176 and Rep. Dingell’s HR-4115 are far from being the first to emerge regarding reservation shopping for the Port Huron and Romulus casinos. Over the years there have been many such attempts by Michigan Reps. Stupak, Dingell and Miller, as well as Sen. Stabenow. Sen. Carl Levin, who had been neutral on the Port Huron casino issue for five years, threw his support behind the effort near the end of July 2007.
Throughout it all, since the early 1990s when the Bay Mills tribe began trying to get entitlement to Charlotte Beach, casino syndication magnate Michael J. Malik, Sr. and various partners have been bankrolling the tribe’s off-reservation gambling efforts. They also poured tons of money into a campaign to coerce voters into approving “commercial” gambling in the state because “it would be so good for Michigan’s economy.”
One of Malik’s long-term partners, Marion Ilitch, is the owner of Motor City Casino. Her casino is one of three allowed in Detroit after Michigan voters approved Proposal E in 1996 by a very narrow margin. The Greektown Casino is now majority owned by the Sault Tribe, and billionaire Kent Kerkorkian, who controls the MGM Mirage enterprise, owns Detroit’s MGM Grand. All three “commercial” casinos have operated in temporary quarters in anticipation of moving into new multi-million dollar gaming complexes developed along Detroit’s riverfront.
Marion Ilitch and her husband, Mike, formed Ilitch Holdings, Inc. in 1999 as an umbrella for all companies they owned. In addition to Marion Ilitch’s Motor City Casino, the couple’s privately held businesses include Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Olympia Development, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Uptown Entertainment, IH Gaming (Detroit Entertainment LLC), among many other entrepreneurial undertakings. They either control or are affiliated with a multitude of enterprises having to do with restaurant, entertainment, tourism, gaming, and development entities, the majority of which are related to casino/development projects. To merely say they’re wealthy is an understatement.
Mike Malik, a Detroit developer and entrepreneur, has partnered with Marion Ilitch since the early 1990s to legalize gambling in Michigan and other states. Over the years, they’ve spent a great deal of money and collaborated to set up off-reservation casinos all across the nation and in Hawaii. Even though Marion Ilitch is obviously a busy entrepreneur, she often lists her occupation as “housewife” when gifting politicians with campaign contributions.
Malik was refused a state casino ownership license by the Michigan Gaming Commission, reportedly because of tax problems. However, since at least 2004 he’s been accused of not reporting hefty casino-related contributions to the political campaigns of legislators in another state. More recently, it’s rumored that the FBI is investigating a federally funded business venture owned by Malik and the Bay Mills tribe that has to do with the research and manufacturing of plastic parts and devices. Malik purportedly has a 49% percent interest in the business, which received at least one federal grant in the amount of $990,000 that was announced through a 2006 press release issued by Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Malik is still very much involved with the Bay Mills tribe, as witnessed by the fact that Bay Mills entered into a relatively new contract with Malik’s Blue Water Resorts enterprise, which has been covering the monthly option on the potential Edison Inn casino property in Port Huron. The new contract, which expires in 2010, involved rewriting a management contract into a consulting arrangement whereby the tribe will have from 20 to 30 years to pay back money owed to Blue Water Resorts instead of needing to pay it back in five years time. It’s said this deal could end up saving the tribe at least $48 million, though no one is saying what’ll happen if the casino never gets built by the Bay Mills tribe or is located elsewhere in Port Huron.
However, gaming entrepreneurs like Malik and Marion Ilitch have no qualms about feeding off Native Americans and gamblers with an addiction for wanting more out of life than they’re getting. They also have no qualms about greasing the palms of any who can help them feed, including the palms of those whose avarice for campaign money outweighs their sense of honor in carrying out their duties of office.
Mike Malik and various members of the Ilitch family are no strangers to palm greasing by way of political contributions. From 2003-06 they gave committees controlled by Rep. Candice Miller at least $75,000. They also gave well over $54,000 to benefit the reelection of Sen. Stabenow, and many more thousands to governors and various folks who sit on committees; particularly committees that decide whether or not certain Native American tribes should be allowed to go reservation shopping for gambling land in more lucrative areas of a state.
As for Sen. Carl Levin, almost $100,000 poured into his campaign coffer on March 30, 2007, much of it from those with an interest in the Port Huron casino, including James Acheson who is said not to have been in the habit of giving money to political campaigns. To date, eight Indian tribes have contributed $16,200 for Levin’s reelection campaign beginning on March 30, 2007 when the Bay Mills tribe made two $2,300 contributions.
In comparison, the Port Huron entrepreneurs have thrown Rep. Stupak only crumbs during this election cycle and only the Bay Mills and Soo tribes have so far contributed a paltry $9,100 to his reelection efforts. However, if it’s any solace to those who reservation shop for casinos, Stupak has said, “I’ll get it done. I’ve been working on this for 10 years. I’ll get it done.”
Of course, he may have been saying the same thing to another tribe for well over a decade because since at least 1994, if not longer, Stupak has repeatedly introduced legislation to “reaffirm and clarify the Federal relationship of the Burt Lake Band of the Ottawa and Chippewa as a distinct federally recognized Indian Tribe.”
He proposed that legislation again on March 19, 2007 as HR-1575. Should it be enacted, it will not only entitle the Burt Lake Band, located northeast of Petoskey, to federal services and benefits provided to recognized Indian tribes, but will also provide for lands to be acquired and held in trust for the Band by the Secretary of the Interior.
Perhaps they, too, have been patiently waiting to do a little reservation shopping for casino land even though David Anderson, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Dept. of the Interior declared in 2004 that the Burt Lake Band does not meet the criteria to be federally recognized.
At present, however, all eyes are turned toward the Congressional proponents of reservation shopping who have been met with stiff opposition from Michigan’s Rep. John Conyers (D-Dist. 14) and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick (D-Dist. 13), among others.
Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on April 2, 2008 regarding the Bay Mills and Soo Tribe’s bid to set up casinos hundreds of miles from their Upper Peninsula home. As a result of that hearing, the Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full House reject each of the two separate measures that would advance the proposed tribal casinos in Port Huron and Romulus.
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Although he certainly must realize that reservation shopping has been going on for years, Conyers said the legislation “would set a dangerous precedent blazing a new pathway to opening casinos, not just in Michigan, but all over the country.”
It remains now to be seen if the U.S. House of Representatives will heed the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation, or if it will do an end run around Conyers & Company and help Stupak & Company “get it done.” For part one click below.
and Dingell face off over casinos
2, Payment is the judge too
3, Appeals court rules for tribe in Detroit casino selection process
4, Efforts by Out-of-State Tribes to Establish Casinos Far From their Reservations
5, Written Testimony for the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs presented by Mike Jandernoa
7, Michigan Strategic Fund
8, Granholm cuts new deal on Port Huron Casino
9, Philanthropist uses fortune from family business to Reshape Port Huron
10, Mike Malik wins big with the proposed Port Huron casino; no license required, less taxes
� 2008 Carole "C.J." Williams - All Rights Reserved