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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2004

Gambling issue before Michigan voters

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In a statewide Election Day issue, Michigan voters will be asked if they want to decide by ballot whether to expand the state's gambling and games business.

If Proposal 1 passes, voter approval would be required for any new state lottery games utilizing table games or player-operated devices. It would also require voter approval for any form of gambling authorized by law after Jan. 1, 2004. It further exempts from voter approval Indian tribal gaming, or gambling in up to three casinos in Detroit.

The issue pits a coalition composed of education groups and racetracks, which is opposed to the issue, against a pro-Proposal 1 group that includes casino owners, the state's Indian gaming tribes, and the tourism industry.

The education groups believe putting gaming issues in the hands of voters will hurt the expansion of lottery games, from which schools collect about $60 million annually, said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokesman for Vote No on Proposal 1. Similarly, the racetrack owners are concerned the proposal would keep them from expanding their games at the tracks.

"The concern is not just impacting potential revenue but for impacting existing revenue," Ms. Rossman-McKinney said.

She contends that in the last 10 years the horse racing industry has lost 14,000 jobs, largely from competition from the Detroit and Indian casinos.

Proposal I proponents say the competition issue is overblown and misleading.

"It's a very simple issue. The voters get to decide; it's no more or less complicated than that," said Roger Martin, a spokesman for Proposal 1 supporters.

The issue was first raised in 2002, when proponents tried to get the state legislature to consider the amendment. The effort failed. But this year, the group collected more than 440,000 signatures and gained a spot on the Nov. 2 ballot.

"They spent $1 million just to get it on the ballot," Ms. Rossman-McKinney said.

Since then, the group has spent $7 million to support the measure, versus $1 million spent by the Vote No group.

A poll released last week by the Detroit Free Press showed Proposal 1 proponents with a 2-1 lead statewide.

Despite the lead in the polls, Mr. Martin notes that of the six constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot in the past two even-year elections, only one passed. "It's easier to get a no vote," he explained.

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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