Just weeks after a report in Michigan’s local press that plans were in the works to develop 22 new casinos in the state, a new opinion poll shows Michigan residents are opposed to increasing the number of casinos.
In a March 5 report, the Detroit Free Press said that private investors and Indian tribes are proposing 22 new casinos across lower Michigan with a concentration in metro Detroit. The report called the effort a “gambling gold rush.” Two competing investor groups are seeking state constitutional amendments to allow expanded gaming and four Indian nations are trying to expand off-reservation gaming. The two organizations mentioned are Michigan First and Michigan is Yours (neither a Facebook page nor a web site was found for Michigan First). The report mentioned “secret pitches to potential investors and government officials,” but details were scanty. Citing “confidential documents” it had reviewed, the Detroit Free Press report said Michigan First includes former Michigan House Speaker Republican Rick Johnson and Democrat Mitch Irwin, the state’s management and budget director under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Two weeks later on March 19, a new poll was released showing a majority of Michigan residents oppose expanded gaming. A combined 60 percent of respondents said there are already too many or the right number of casinos now operating in the state, 12 percent said there are not enough, and 28 percent said they didn’t know. There are currently 25 casinos in Michigan, including three commercial casinos in Detroit and 22 Indian casinos. The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe has five casinos, which is amongst the most owned by any one tribe in the country.
The poll was conducted January 21-25 by The Mellman Group, a Washington-based opinion research and strategic advice firm, on behalf of a coalition of commercial and Indian casinos that oppose gaming expansion in Michigan. Called Protect Mi Vote, the coalition includes MGM Grand Detroit and Greektown Casino in Detroit; Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, owner of Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant; and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, owner of FireKeepers Casino near Battle Creek..
The statewide survey probed 600 likely general election voters who were interviewed by phone. Of the 60 percent of voters opposed to more casinos, 34 percent said the current number of casinos is just right while 26 percent said there are already too many casinos. “This belief is consistent across [political] party, as only 13% of Democrats, 15% of independents and 9% of Republicans believe that there are not enough casinos in Michigan,” Mellman said in a media teleconference when the poll results were released. Michigan residents have “a strong sense that there are enough, Very few people want more,” Mellman said.
A majority of 56 percent of respondents also opposed off-reservation casinos while 26 percent favor them. Respondents were also asked if they favored or opposed removing a legally-binding provision in tribal-state gaming compacts that prohibits off-reservation casinos. Only 26 percent favored the proposal while 59 percent opposed it. Four Michigan tribes are seeking seven off-reservation casinos: the Sault Tribe in Lansing and Romulus; Bay Mills Indian Community in Vanderbilt, Flint, Port Huron; Hannahville Indian Community in Romulus; and Little River Band in Muskegon.
“These four tribes are breaking their commitment under the compacts to the people of Michigan and all the other tribes,” James Nye, a spokesman for the Protect Mi Vote, said in an email to ICTMN. Each tribe’s gaming compact stipulates that all of the tribes must agree in writing if a tribe wants to open an off-reservation casino, Nye said. “We do not believe IGRA permits tribes that already operate five casinos, like the Sault Tribe, to conduct gaming 300 miles from their existing lands, within the historic territories of other tribes” Nye said.
If the 22 new casinos were approved, they would almost double the number of casinos in the state, Nye noted. “The last thing this state and the tribal governments need is a tidal wave of 22 new casinos. We know the voters of Michigan support our position on gaming issues,” Nye said. Nye said the Protect Mi Vote coalition won’t leave its members fate in anyone else’s hands, “We continue to safeguard the regulatory structure of federal Indian gaming that is threatened by tribes acting like corporate casino companies. Our new poll clearly proves that the voters of Michigan reject reservation shopping.”