Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 8, 2010

Measures would allow new casinos

Two gambling proposals working toward Nov. ballot

LANSING (AP) -- Jobs are hard to come by in Benton Harbor, a recession-ravaged town of 10,800 on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The city has lost more than 15 percent of its population in the last two decades. The local government's budget situation is so bad the state might appoint an emergency financial manager.

That's why Mayor Wilce Cooke backs a proposed ballot measure that would allow casinos to open in Benton Harbor and six other Michigan locations, potentially creating jobs and dedicating a slice of the tax revenue to local governments.

"High unemployment, foreclosures -- we've been hard hit," Cooke said. "We have to be smart to generate new forms of revenue, and I think this is one way to do that."

A coalition called Michigan Is Yours, co-chaired by Cooke, needs to collect more than 380,000 voter signatures by July 5 to make the November ballot. The measure would allow developers to open casinos in Benton Harbor, Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Muskegon, Romulus and slot machines at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Sports betting would be allowed at Michigan casinos if the measure becomes law.

It's one of two gambling-oriented proposals trying to make the November ballot. The other is a measure that would allow up to eight more casinos, five of which would be located at Michigan horse racing tracks.

Supporters promote casinos as a way to create jobs, reinvigorate tourism and boost tax revenues for key government programs.

The Michigan Is Yours proposal, for example, would require the new casinos to pay a wagering tax of up to 19 percent. Some of the cash would go to Michigan's suspended Promise college scholarship program and the popular Pure Michigan tourism advertising campaign. Another chunk of tax revenue would go to the local governments where the casinos are located.

But some doubt the plan will cure what ails Michigan.

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