MGM puts on Michigan battle gear

Mar 11, 2008 6:00 PM

by Ray Poirier | Officials at MGM MIRAGE Inc. (MGM) aren’t denying that they are behind the anti-gambling group "Gambling Watch" whose message to Michigan voters warns of the development of two new casinos in their areas.

Obviously the company, which recently opened an $800 million tourist destination resort in Detroit, doesn’t want some honky-tonk grind joint just 20 miles away siphoning off some of the gambling dollars that should be going to their facility.

"We’ve made no secret of where we are on this," stated Alan Feldman, senior vice-president for public affairs at MGM MIRAGE.

But the "Gambling Watch" tactics are being criticized. According to a description in Business Week magazine, the anti-gambling operator sent out flyers that pictured dice, crumpled-up cash and text blaring, "Washington Poised to Force Two New Casinos on Michigan Families. Only You Can Stop the Special Interests."

The two proposed casinos are being sponsored by the Bay Mills Indian Community which wants to open a casino in Port Huron, Michigan, 60 miles from Detroit, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe that plans a casino in Romulus, Michigan, a quick 20 miles from Detroit.

Washington lobbyists has been heavily financed on both sides with MGM MIRAGE reportedly spending $300,000 for the services of a high-powered firm while the Native American tribes spent some $400,000 for an assortment of lobbyists.

The use by MGM MIRAGE of anti-gambling rhetoric to oppose competition is being lambasted by casino supporters. And, powerful Congressman John Dingell, whose district includes Romulus, has likened Gambling Watch’s tactics to those employed by imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The casinos require that Congress approve a land-swap to provide the necessary real estate. The measure has been approved by the House but observers have suggested the bill will be seriously opposed when it reaches the Senate for consideration.