Even if you believe more casinos would improve Michigan’s economy — a dubious proposition — a new petition drive to put approval of seven more casinos on the ballot has little to recommend it.
There are so many things wrong here, in fact, that it’s hard to know where to begin. Under the terms cited on the back of the petition, a single company would operate the casinos or award the rights to operate — no bidding to get the best value, no hint as to what the basic standards might be, or who would stand to gain from awarding the lucrative licenses.
This amendment to the constitution would also lock in both the casinos’ wagering tax rate and the state funds to which the money would be sent: Pure Michigan, the state’s now defunct Promise Scholarship program, the counties and municipalities where the casinos are located, and the School Aid Fund. All are (or were) worthy programs, but — as the demise of the Promise scholarship shows — lawmakers’ and voters’ priorities can change over time. This level of earmarking does not belong in the state Constitution.
Finally, the amendment determines where the casinos would be located: Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit, Romulus, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Mount Clemens. It ignores the one location left in Michigan where a new casino might make some sense — Port Huron — and eviscerates the three voter-approved casinos in Detroit by adding another one in the city, plus one each in nearby Romulus and Mount Clemens.
All of this is promoted as an economic development initiative. But if casinos really put communities on the road to riches, Detroit would have demonstrated that by now. Meantime, new native American casinos continue to open around the state as well.
Voters asked to sign a petition for more casinos — in the guise of state economic development — would do well to flip the petition over and read the constitutional amendment in its entirety. It’s far from a good bet for Michigan.
(from the Detroit Free Press, April 18, 2011)