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Efforts Underway to Bring More Casinos to Michigan

5 March 2012 by Devon Chappell

There is currently a battle brewing in Michigan.  With an already successful casino industry, and the potential for billions of dollars in annual profits, a number of competing efforts are underway to secure a piece of the pie.  At the moment, proposals exist that could bring as many as 22 new casinos to Michigan, a state that already has 25 casinos to speak of – 22 tribal casinos and three non-tribal.

The state’s three non-tribal casinos are located in the city of Detroit.  They have been wildly successful thus far, and investors seeking to expand Michigan’s casino industry have clearly taken notice.  Just last year, the three Detroit casinos took in revenues of approximately $1.4 billion – and in 2010, they contributed almost $100 million to help fund Michigan schools.  That last statistic is of particular importance.  While investors are attracted by the potential for obscene profits, the state officials whom ultimately hold the cards are motivated by tax revenue needed to fund everything from education, to healthcare, to prisons.  Michigan, after-all, was one of the states most affected by the recent recession brought on by the housing crisis of 2008.

One of the strongest arguments investors can make for bringing more casinos to the state is that casinos create jobs.  In 2011, Michigan’s 25 casinos combined to employ nearly 25,000 people according to estimates put forth by state officials.  Job creation and tax revenue are extremely potent arguments for proponents of casino expansion.  Recently, Massachusetts expanded its gambling laws to pave the way for three brand new casino resorts to be built in three different regions of the state.

Unlike Massachusetts, whose three new casinos will be the first ever permitted to operate in Mass., Michigan is by no means a newcomer to the casino industry.  In fact, Detroit’s casinos alone have caused their home city to be rated the fifth largest casino market by The American Gaming Association.  And despite this distinction, investors clearly feel that the motor city’s casino industry has room left to grow.

An organization called Michigan First has proposed to build an additional four non-tribal casinos in the Detroit area.  This group seemingly has the support of Mitch Irwin – Michigan’s one-time budget director who worked for Jennifer Granholm, the former governor.  When the Detroit Free Press approached Irwin to comment on Michigan First’s proposal, he remarked, “We’re not ready to announce anything publicly right now.”  He did, however, suggest that information could be released later this month that would shed more light on the organization’s plans.

Documents surfaced recently that reportedly demonstrate the massive gambling expansion that Michigan First is calling for.  In addition to four new casinos in or near Detroit, the group is targeting cities like Lansing, Cadillac and Grand Rapids for further casino development.  In order to achieve such a feat, Michigan First seeks to amend the state’s constitution in November.  An effort like this could cost as much as $50 million to pull off.

One of the greatest challenges facing Michigan First and the other organizations like them seeking to expand casino gambling in Michigan is that their interests are in direct conflict with those of the existing casinos in the state.  At the moment, tribal casinos and non-tribal casinos seem to be forging a partnership to strongly oppose efforts that would create significant competition for their casino businesses, including internet casinos.

With so much at stake, one can expect that both sides will spend large sums of money in an effort to win the support of state officials and voters alike.


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