MONROE - Local officials were caught off-guard yesterday by outgoing Gov. John Engler's approval of a possible casino in Monroe County - a last-minute deal he made on his way out the door.
Believing that talk of a casino in the county died years ago after the idea was met with opposition, officials said they were surprised to hear that they were once again within the gaming industry's sights.
LaSalle Township Supervisor Larry Rutledge was an interested observer in 1999 and 2000 when Toledo-area businessman Tim Gladieux was considering locating a casino on land he had optioned near Toledo Beach Marina. When that effort fell apart in 2001, Mr. Rutledge said he believed the whole idea of a casino in his township was dead.
While officials of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians said they wouldn't build in any of the locations without local support, Mr. Rutledge said they probably wouldn't be greeted with enthusiasm in LaSalle Township.
“The last time, a few people contacted me and thought it was good [to build a casino near Toledo Beach], but I got a lot more letters in opposition,” Mr. Rutledge said.
The former governor's deal gives state approval for the Sault tribe to open a casino in Flint, Romulus, or southern Monroe County. Mr. Engler agreed to the deal to settle a land dispute between the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault tribe, one of the owners of Detroit's Greektown Casino.
The action reverses the former governor's earlier position that he would fight any casino that close to Detroit.
Bernard Bouschor, chairman of the Sault tribe and chief executive officer of the Greektown casino, said his tribe operates six “highly successful” casinos in the state that have “created 5,000 jobs, generated millions of dollars in tax and tourist revenues,” and “generated new opportunities for hundreds of Michigan businesses.”
As part of the deal, the tribe was awarded permission to build a casino in Vanderbilt, Mich., about 45 miles south of the Mackinaw Bridge. The community already has passed a resolution supporting it.
“As to the potential new locations, these vibrant communities have either expressed support for casinos or are located in areas with pressing economic develop needs and no gaming industry to help,” he said in a statement.
Although approved by the state, the casinos would require congressional approval and local support before moving forward.
Bedford Township Supervisor LaMar Frederick, who is the current chairman of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said he, too, was caught off guard by the governor's last-minute decree.
When he heard the news yesterday, Mr. Frederick said he asked SEMCOG's staff to immediately begin an analysis of what impact a new casino outside the city of Detroit would have.
“If there was another casino put in the region, what would that do to the three already in place and to the city of Detroit?'' he said.
Although tribe officials refused to provide any specific location in Monroe County that they were considering, their choices are somewhat limited by current infrastructure in the area.
Mr. Gladieux, who at one time was involved with the casino project in LaSalle Township, squelched rumors that his land was being considered. He said yesterday his only intention for the land is residential development.
“We have no interest in a casino,” he said. “No, thank you.”