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Home News  It's a safe bet lobbyists and flaks will be big winners
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Wednesday, January 25,2012

It's a safe bet lobbyists and flaks will be big winners

by Kyle Melinn

Washington D.C.-based bureaucrats and the federal courts will ultimately decide if the Sault Ste. Marie band of Chippewa Indians can roll the dice on a Lansing casino. 

But the battle for support among local officials and the public has begun. Proponents and opponents are hunkering down with seemingly just about every lobbyist and public relations professional in town.

Turning a Lansing Center parking lot into a casino floor won’t happen overnight. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero understands that, which means getting the public’s support is almost as important as getting a judge’s support for the Sault tribe’s unproven legal theory that would allow a casino here.

Bernero is Lansing’s mayor today. There’s no guarantee he will be five or 10 years from now when the case is finally adjudicated. So if the courts rule in the Sault Ste. Marie tribe’s favor, whoever happens to be in power must keep the ball rolling. The dream withers away otherwise.

The best way to assure that? Make sure the local officials and the voters fall in love with it. If Bernero is a one-man crusade, the project dies.

“Become an advocate for this project,” Bernero urged during Monday’s kick-off. “Talking about this project, advocating for this project. Help make this dream a reality.”

With his regular PR guy, Randy Hannan, wearing more hats than the peddler in the classic children’s book “Caps For Sale,” Bernero is wisely getting outside help on the public relations front. Deb Muchmore from the Marketing Resource Group was helping out the mayor’s office on Monday.

MRG lists as clients Motor City Casino and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, which runs the new Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo near the Indiana border. Neither entity has formerly joined the coalition of gaming interests working against Kewadin Lansing, but it’s a potential conflict PR types in town are keeping an eye on.

Veteran PR guy Roger Martin of Martin Waymire Communications is handling communications for the Sault Ste. Marie tribe. The multi-client lobbying firm of Cusmano Kandler and Reed has handled the Kewadin Gaming Authority’s lobbying duties since ‘09.

Last June, the tribe hired John Wernet, former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s right hand on Indian legal affairs. All told, Wernet’s been handling Native American legal issues for about as long as I’ve been alive.

Richard McLellan, former Gov. John Engler’s legal counsel and a well-respected legal mind, is working with Lansing Future, the project developer. The managing director of Lansing Future is Bill Martines, due in part to his “vast real estate development background.”

The money behind the operation comes from Jerry Campbell, the retired founder of Ann Arbor-based Republic Bancorp. He led a short-lived attempt to create the Pinnacle horse race track in Wayne County. He pulled the plug on it last year after sinking a reported $35 million into it since its 2008 opening.

Representing Campbell on the PR front is Jeff Caponigro, who served with Campbell on the Central Michigan University Board of Trustees.

The law firm of Miller Canfield is assisting on the legal end of things for Kewadin Lansing, as well.

The city of Lansing has on the string multi-client Kheder Davis and debatably the city’s biggest and most influential firm — Governmental Consulting Services Inc. 

However, GCSI also has as a client MPM Enterprises, the management partner of the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians, which is very much a partner of the anti-Kewadin Lansing movement.

Attorney James Nye, who did public relations during the Gun Lake casino debate, is the media’s point person on the anti-side. Predictably, those entities that stand the most to lose financially from a Lansing casino are out front in opposition.

The Saginaw band of Chippewa Indians, who owns Soaring Eagle in Mount Pleasant, hired Philip Hogen, the former chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, to give his legal analysis that a Lansing casino is illegal. The Saginaw band is represented by Public Affairs Associates, another big-swinging lobbying firm. 

PAA also represents the MGM Grand, another member of the anti-casino coalition. The Detroit-based law firm of Dickinson Wright also does work for MGM.

An hour south of Lansing, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Pottawatomi opened the FireKeepers Casino outside of Battle Creek in 2009. They’re part of the coalition and are represented on the lobbying front by Michigan Legislative Consultants.

The Sault Ste. Marie band previously owned the Greektown Casino in Detroit, but it filed for bankruptcy in 2008. It’s now owned by a group of investors who are represented in Lansing by Karoub Associates, Dykema Gossett and Scofes & Associates, among others. WWP Strategies, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm with strong ties in Michigan is also working with the anti-side.

It’s literally all hands on deck — and the Kewadin Lansing dream is, publicly, only days old.

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