clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Mayor Coleman Young long has envisioned a string of glittering hotel casinos on a city-owned island in the Detroit River, bringing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars.

But the mayor's latest bid for casino gambling has the potential to be as confusing as a fast-paced game of craps.Opponents got an initiative on the Aug. 2 ballot that calls for a ban on casinos in Detroit even if the Legislature approves them for the state. Bills are pending in the Capitol, but odds are against approval. And if the bills were approved, it's not clear whether the voters or the Legislature would prevail.

Proposal Y, put on the primary ballot by Citizens for Detroit's Future, asks voters to vote "yes" if they want to ban casinos; "no" if they want them. Voters said "no" to casinos during advisory referendums in 1976 and 1981.

Because only the Legislature has jurisdiction over legalized gambling, approval there might supersede a ban in Detroit, Assistant Director of Elections Isa Azzouz said.

The outcome of next week's vote will be considered, but legislators say they don't see casino gambling as a panacea.

"The economic problems of greater Detroit are not going to be solved by everybody putting their bets on casino gambling," Senate Majority Leader John Engler said. "I don't think there's support for it at all."

Pro-casino forces say they have prepared a mass mailing, bought radio ads and planned a blitz of talk shows and other public forums. With a week to go before the election, there was little evidence of a coordinated effort.

"I will do whatever I'm asked to do, and if that included cutting tapes, or making speeches or signing letters, I'll do that," Young said earlier.

But so far, he has remained on the sidelines.

Casino gambling for the nation's sixth-largest city has been a pet project of Young's. He has talked over the years of hotel-casinos on Belle Isle, where he also has proposed moving the Detroit Grand Prix auto race.

Casino gambling, says Young, will bring as much as $2 billion in annual revenue and create 40,000 new jobs in a city that has lived with the ups and downs of the auto industry. Detroit's unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in May, the last month for which figures were available, compared with a statewide rate of 6.5 percent.

Critics say most of the new jobs would be menial.

A Casino Gaming Study Commission appointed by Young to study the issue released its report in June, voting 46-15 with three members abstaining, in favor of building as many as 12 hotel-casinos.

About two dozen commission members formed a coalition to defeat the anti-casino measure. Tom Barrow, head of the ban casinos movement and Young's opponent in the 1985 mayoral election, had claimed Young stacked the commission with people on his side.

The 15 members of the commission who voted against it said casino gambling would be accompanied by increased crime and hurt Detroit's image.

Some experts have noted a connection between gambling and organized crime.

"People tend to turn to illegal gambling, like sports betting," said Justin Dintino, chief of organized crime intelligence for the Commission of Investigation in New Jersey, which has casino gambling in Atlantic City.

"Or they turn to loan sharks when they need money. That's when organized crime will step in. And then there's prostitution and the narcotics area, with tourists and employes."

Residents also appear unenthusiastic.

In a survey conducted by the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV in early July, likely voters opposed the measure by a nearly 2-1 margin. Various civic groups actively oppose casino gambling.

The Alliance Against Casino Gambling, an organization of 169 churches, and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, also have been vocal opponents.

It may not be so much what's said, but how it's said.

"I think when all is said and done, when you try to blow by the people, try to run roughshod over the people, they're going to seize control themselves," said Barrow.

No one has publicly speculated the issue will affect Young's political future. Young has yet to officially announce a run for a fifth term but has hinted he will.

Either way, Young appears insistent. If voters rebuff the idea a third time, he said, he might try a new approach.

"I might even talk to lawmakers and try to get something done in Lansing before an advisory (vote) by the people," he said. "That's the way it's generally done, by the way."