Mayor Calls Casino Ruling 'Great News'

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Mayor Virg Bernero is praising a Supreme Court ruling Tuesday that could help clear the way for a casino in Lansing.

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court ruled the State of Michigan could not sue an Indian tribe without its consent, due to sovereign immunity. The ruling was made in the case of the Bay Mills Indian Community, but could very well set the precedent for Lansing's agreement with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, which is also on hold.

"This is great news for Lansing," Bernero said. "It's basically a big green light for our casino. It'll still take a little time, but this means job, economic development, and the Lansing promise. This means four years of free education."

Bernero says a casino would bring in more than 1,000 permanent jobs and construction jobs in addition to garnering conventions that will "complete Lansing's entertainment district."

Proceeds would go to the Lansing Promise Fund, which guarantees students in the Lansing School District a chance at higher education -- paying for an associates degree from Lansing Community College or funding two years of a degree at Michigan State University.

Currently, the money comes from private donors. But chairman Kellie Dean says a casino would cover the costs -- for not only education, but other programs and vocational opportunities as well.

"We've said we were never counting on the money that came from the casino," Dean said. "But if that additional support does come to the Promise, there is so much more that we would be able to do for our Lansing kids."

Others worry a casino could provide easy access to people struggling with a compulsive gambling problem.

"The more gambling venues we open in this state -- poker rooms, lottery, keno -- the more problems we're going to have with compulsive gamblers," said Michael Burke, an author and former compulsive gambler, adding gambling problems double within a 50-mile radius of a casino.

Burke -- and the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling -- says he isn't necessarily opposed to a casino that the vast majority of people will use responsibly. Instead, he'd like to make sure support is there for those who struggle with gambling problems.

"What I propose is to have some sort of system in place, before we open the casino, to help these people," he said. "Go out to the groups who want to put in the casinos and work out a treatment program in advance, before the licenses are issued and make sure they're willing to support an inpatient treatment program."

The same system is in place in Louisiana and is effective, Burke said. The casino can more than afford the cost, he said.

Whether a casino comes or not likely won't be decided any time soon, said MSU Law Professor Matthew Fletcher, who called the court's decision "just the beginning."

He said the decision tipped the scales slightly toward the tribes.

"The state cannot sue the tribe anymore in that regard," he said. "It will have to sue in a different way, sue through a different legal theory or in a different court."

Attorney General Bill Schuette also claimed a victory following the ruling, saying the court has made it clear he can sue tribal members rather than the tribe at large, and perhaps pursue criminal charges.

Future lawsuits could impede the progress of Lansing's casino. Fletcher says the only thing in the way now is the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, which would have to acquire the land to make it trust land and thus gaming eligible.

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