By Michelle Hazekamp
June 19, 2022
Wednesday, June 15, Governor Whitmer REJECTED the long anticipated approval of the Muskegon County Casino to be located in Fruitport Township.
12 Years in the Making
The casino project has been in negotiations the past 12 years between the Little River Band Tribe of Ottawa Indians, Lansing, the federal government and Muskegon County. It was federally approved a year and a half ago, but the high socio-economic anticipation has been a tidal wave of ups and downs as they have experienced set backs every step of the way.
Governor Whitmer stated on Wednesday that her reason for rejecting the Little River Band's off-reservation casino was because the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians are awaiting their federal recognition and "It's critical to have this information before making an informed decision." The Little River Band received their federal recognition in 1994, but whether another tribe has federal recognition or not has no bearing on whether one can build a casino. They are two separate issues and non-related. A spokesperson for the Little River Band claims that Governor Whitmer has been misinformed on the correlation between the two.
Losing Campaign Support
The casino has had broad, bipartisan support, but mostly by Democrats. Whitmer may have significantly damaged her re-election efforts by rejecting the casino with many of her supporters here in Muskegon and neighboring counties, thus swaying Democrat voters over to the Republican side. However, whether you supported the casino or not, there may be great economic consequences from her decision. The casino would have brought 3,000 new jobs to Muskegon County and expanded our tourism by putting Muskegon County on the map as a sought out destination along with more tax revenue for the county. Casino's are also notorious for putting millions of dollars back into their surrounding communities, particularly the local school districts.
Casinos & Crime
The downside to casinos is the increase in crime they are notorious for attracting. Increases in murder, burglary, drivers under the influence, drugs, prostitution, etc are all associated with the gambling industry. Not many studies have been done in recent years to examine the trend, especially in Michigan, and so much has been written in the past on both sides, that it is hard to discern any strong facts.
In the 1990s, experts said in one report that for each dollar in legalized gambling, there is a similar amount in illegal gambling. There have been occasional news reports of cases like gamblers committing insurance fraud to get more money to feed their addiction or stories of people embezzling money from their employer for gambling.
Improvement of the Economically Depressed
A 2004 Department of Justice-sponsored study found pathological gamblers more likely to be arrested for such offenses as probation or parole violations, liquor law violations, trespassing and other public order offenses.
One of the most widely discussed studies on the topic was released in 2001 and co-authored by University of Georgia associate economics professor David Mustard. The study found some crime could decline because more less-skilled workers get jobs working at casinos and that the casinos improve economically depressed locations. Conversely, it found crime may rise because casinos draw unsavory characters and some compulsive gamblers commit crime to get more money to gamble. More recent news accounts of crime and casinos offer support to both sides of the debate.
Plethora of Social Ills
Melissa Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland, released a literature review in 2005 summarizing work on gambling done to date. A study by Maryland's William Evans and Julie Topoleski that focused on Indian casinos found that they created a significant number of jobs. The ratio of jobs available to adults increased, on average, by 5 percent. This in turn lead to a 2 percent decline in mortality, as residents' economic conditions improved.
But the casinos also lead to a plethora of social ills, including increased substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, violent crime, auto theft and bankruptcy: The latter three all increased by 10 percent in communities that allowed gambling.
True Demographics are Not Calculated
A more recent study done in 2020, "Casino Gambling Impacts on Crime and Public Safety: Review of 30 Years of Research", by Jay Albanese, found that in most cases, the increase in demographics from visitors and/or police employment were not calculated, however, concluded that most of the studies found no increase in the risk of crime in a casino jurisdiction. This reasoning can be due to the fact that casino's generally attract an older population whereas, younger people generally commit crimes and tend to not hang around casinos.
Job Availability at an All Time High
As we consider the potential economic and job loss as a result of Governor Whitmers rejection to the Muskegon County casino, one must also look at the current employment situation. All business's are in desperate need of employees and there are help wanted signs everywhere. Every business is short-handed and as a result we are waiting longer for food to be served at restaurants and suffering longer waiting times in check-out lines at stores. Do we really need 3,000 more job openings when there are already so many. It's hard to believe the casino would fill 3,000 positions while so many other business's are begging for help, increasing starting wages with no sufficient results. Or, after surviving the lock-downs of Covid, would this potentially have caused even more local businesses to shut their doors permanently as a mad rush of local citizens take on employment at the casino instead?
Detroit Casinos May Have Huge Influence over Whitmer
The federal government approved the Little River Band to build their casino over a year and a half ago. Whitmer has had this sitting on her desk since then, and has had plenty of time to make an informed decision knowing that the federal identification of the Grand River Band is completely unrelated with no relevance. However, the Detroit casinos donate huge amounts of money to her campaign. Could there be stipulations attached to this money that has significant influence over her decision as another casino would be competition? And I'm sure Muskegon County is of little concern to her, as we do not carry the mass voter population that Detroit holds in her favor.
Michelle Hazekamp is a candidate for Muskegon County Commissioner, a Muskegon County business owner and a Delegate for the Muskegon County Republican Party. She is a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a bachelorette in Science and a minor in History.