Make it two active casino proposals for the Lansing area.
A group of private investors are hoping to hit the jackpot in 2012 by getting voters to OK their plans to build seven new casinos in select cities across the state. Lansing would be one of the seven.
Michigan is Yours! is the moniker being used by developer Tony Gray and Chief David Tomby, who tried four years ago to build a casino on top of Cobo Hall – something he called the Xanadu Plan. Detroit radio host John Mason and music artist Morris Day also have signed on to this effort to collect 400,000 signatures by Oct. 1.
This is not Ted O’Dell and the Lansing Jobs Coalition’s idea to bring an Indianrun casino to downtown Lansing. O’Dell is more than halfway finished collecting signatures to put on Lansing’s August primary ballot a measure to gauge public support for an Indian-run casino. His plan follows a different process used in Battle Creek with Firekeepers Casino where a tribe obtains land and then is given various approvals to build its casino.
The new effort is much simpler. It’s also much harder to pull off because it involves changing the state Constitution.
Back in 2004 voters agreed to change the Constitution to read that any corporate gaming operation in Michigan could only be built if supporters win two elections — a statewide vote and a local vote. Michigan is Yours! is going back to the Constitution and carving out an exception for a corporate entity called C-My-Casino Inc.
The group’s chief focus is Romulus, where developers want to cash in on the out-of-state gamblers streaming out of Detroit Metro Airport. But they also see dollar signs in Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Mount Clemens and Lansing.
Who would build the Lansing casino? The organizers didn’t have that information at their Thursday kick-off press conference, but they assured me a developer would be carefully screened by this C-My- Casino Inc. and that the Lansing City Council would ultimately need to sign off on any land use decisions.
"But this C-My-Casino isn’t a public entity, right?" was my question.
"They’re public in the sense the voters gave them their approval at the ballot box," answered Brian Pierce, who is handling the group’s public relations.
What Pierce could say at the press conference was that Michigan is Yours! would spend "whatever was necessary" to collect the 322,609 valid signatures needed to get the measure on the November ’12 ballot.
By all appearances, the group is much more serious than it was last year when it tried the same thing. It’s hired a professional signature-gathering firm and claims it will spend whatever it takes to get the necessary number. If that’s true, they’ll get the signatures.
The real problem comes next fall when they try to sell this idea to state voters. In 2004, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Mt. Pleasant spent $9 million and MGM Grand spent $8.3 million on mostly TV advertisements to kill an effort to put slot machines in racetracks. In total, $19 million was spent in the winning "Let Voters Decide" campaign in what is still the most expensive ballot campaign in the state’s history.
With the Saginaw Chippewas sitting on an enormous trust fund, money will be no object for them when it comes to shooting this bird out of the sky.
Michigan is Yours! supporters believe Las Vegas investors interested in owning one or more of the seven available casino licenses will blow all sorts of cash into Michigan to counter the expected media blitz from the Chippewa Tribe and MGM.
But even if they do, the proposal faces a tough road at the ballot box. Detroit isn’t going to want the competition. Neither will residents Up North. The social conservatives in West Michigan aren’t going to want an expansion of the perceived sin.
We don’t even know if Lansing residents want a casino. Firekeepers Casino is about an hour south. We have Soaring Eagle an hour north. There’s a brand new Indian-run casino about an hour west near Gun Lake. And there’s, of course, the three Detroit casinos about 90 minutes to the east.
Supporters are making the hard sell that money generated from these seven corporate casinos will go to the state to pay for Michigan’s Pure Michigan advertising campaign and cover the cost of Michigan’s now defunded "Promise" scholarships.
There’s also the promise of economic development, that a casino will rain money on downtown Lansing. Has that worked for Detroit? Mt. Pleasant? Gun Lake? Battle Creek? We may be in a position come this August or next November to answer that question for ourselves.
(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@ lansingcitypulse.com.)