Michigan Supreme Court orders casino proposal put on ballot

August 27, 2012

Lansing — Michigan voters could decide in November whether the state needs eight new privately run casinos, including four in Metro Detroit.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday ordered state election officials to place on the Nov. 6 ballot a constitutional amendment that would authorize new gambling facilities in Birch Run, Clinton Township, Clam Lake (near Cadillac), Detroit, DeWitt Township, Grand Rapids, Pontiac and Romulus.

The legal victory by Citizens for More Michigan Jobs sets up a ballot box donnybrook not seen since 2004, when existing casinos spent nearly $20 million on the successful passage of a constitutional amendment requiring statewide and local votes for new nontribal gambling facilities. The harness racing industry spent more than $7 million that year in a failed bid to add slot machines at struggling horse tracks.

The high court reversed an Aug. 14 Michigan Court of Appeals decision that blocked the casino proposal from the ballot.

The Board of State Canvassers will consider Monday whether to add the casino proposal to a loaded general election ballot that could include up to five other constitutional amendments and one referendum.

“The established casinos will spend whatever they think is necessary to beat the thing back,” said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “Casinos have a capacity to bring a lot of money to bear.”

John Truscott, a spokesman for Protect MI Vote, which opposes gaming expansion, said the group is “prepared for a fight” this fall. Protect MI Vote is headed by Detroit’s casinos and three tribal casinos.

“It’s a very, very bad proposal that will cost jobs and be detrimental to our economy,” he said.

The Detroit casinos and three tribal casinos sought to block the initiative, claiming it could unconstitutionally undo a 1996 voter-initiated gaming control law. The Appeals Court agreed with the existing casino operators, but the three-judge panel was overruled by the Supreme Court in a 7-0 decision.

“We always felt confident in our language,” said Emily Gerkin Palsrok, spokeswoman for Citizens for More Michigan Jobs, a group of investors seeking voter approval for new casinos. “It just proves our opposition will go to extreme lengths to protect their monopoly.”

Citizens for More Michigan Jobs released an economic study this week claiming eight new casinos could attract up to $1.45 billion in new investment in Michigan, create more than 20,000 jobs and generate more than $600 million in new tax revenue. The ballot proposal seeks to hike the commercial casino revenue tax rate from 19 percent to 23 percent.

Truscott called the study by former state Treasurer Robert Kleine and former House Fiscal Agency director Mitch Bean “completely bogus” and argued the study doesn’t take into account new casino competition in northern Ohio.

“They’ve cooked those numbers,” Truscott said.

The Supreme Court did not hold a public hearing on the matter. But in a concurring opinion, Justice Stephen Markman explained his disagreements with the other justices.

Markman said he agreed with the Court of Appeals ruling that the proposal “thoroughly revises” the Gaming Control and Revenue Act, which authorized construction of the three Detroit casinos. Opponents have argued a voter-initiated constitutional amendment can’t undo a voter-initiated law without the Legislature’s approval, and that the proposal could strip the state gaming control board of many of its regulatory powers.

“The petition fails even to alert voters to the fact that they are being asked to amend a law that they themselves previously enacted through the initiative process,” Markman wrote.

He also said the Legislature needs to clarify legal procedures for changing the state constitution.

“The people are entitled to know how this process is properly invoked,” Markman wrote. “We have seen evidence over the past several weeks, and more such evidence appears imminent, of the confusion that exists in this respect on the part of the people, the Board of State Canvassers, the Secretary of State and this court itself.”

Michigan Supreme Court orders casino proposal put on ballot

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