Freep Opposes Bay Mills and Sault Tribe Bills

From the Detroit Free Press:

Say no to a bad precedent on casinos

Among John Engler’s last acts as governor of Michigan — on Dec. 30, 2002, to be precise — was approving a land claim settlement with two Upper Peninsula Indian tribes that gave them rights to property for two separate casinos in southeast Michigan. The settlement was long overdue, but the terms Engler allowed were way too generous to the tribes.

Now, more than six years later, Congress is considering once again whether to go along, which would allow the casinos to be built in Romulus and Port Huron. While both communities could use the development and jobs, this deal sets a bad national precedent for “reservation shopping” by Indian tribes and ought to be rejected on that basis. Congress should act to protect established Department of Interior procedures for evaluating and designating reservation land.

Members of Congress from Michigan split on this during a committee hearing last week, based largely on the interests of communities in their districts, including those that already have gambling. It’s hardly clear anymore what’s in the best interest of Michigan as a whole, although it must be said that, unfortunately, the state has precious few businesses growing more substantially these days than casinos.

Gambling, however, is no strategic answer to Michigan’s economic woes, and, while experts say the state has not yet reached its saturation point for gambling, it already has plenty of places where people can risk their money.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm supports the settlement and last fall signed the tribes to updated agreements that jack up what they must pay the state for casino operations in Michigan. The new rates range from 9%-14% of casino revenues as they grow, up from a flat 8% in the pact Engler signed. If Congress does decide to go along, that’s certainly an improvement.

Whatever happens will surely not be the last word on expanded gambling in Michigan. For example, another tribal casino has opened in Battle Creek, and discussions are under way in Muskegon.

For Detroit, the issue is protection of three casinos that have become part of the city’s economic lifeblood as major employers and tax generators. But they may not need it as they convert into plush operations with high-end hotels, very different from most tribal casinos.

Gambling’s not going away, and it is certainly going to get bigger in Michigan. But the issue before Congress is less about that than about the model to be made for future tribal land claims.