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Detroit Casinos Spark City's Turnaround

3 April 2002

A burgeoning buzz is making its way through the streets of Detroit right now. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, various city organizations, business owners and citizens are starting to envision what could be in the cards for the future of Detroit. The Mayor has sprung out of the gates to start his administration and shown the city his dedication to getting things accomplished by rapidly taking action concerning the long-running casino dilemma. Despite a few bumps in the road relating to the level of communication with the City Council, in the end, the Mayor has gotten the job done.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau has declared that Detroit can, and will, be a destination city. Business owners are eyeing the possibilities of a renewed city, vacant river-front property, permanent casinos with hotels and the significant potential for spin-off businesses and small business success. Also, the citizens of Detroit, who may be the most anxious and enthusiastic, are ready to see their city revitalized and respected the way they feel it should be. The buzz began, albeit quietly, with the creation of casinos in Detroit. It's volume continues to grow as the city plans for future development and the hosting of significant events. The casinos have functioned throughout as a stepping stone toward tomorrow.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick recently negotiated a proposal with the casino operators to establish long-awaited permanent casinos in Detroit. By doing this with less than three months in office, Mayor Kilpatrick showed his commitment to accomplishing the goals he laid out. If the Mayor and the City Council can team up to communicate effectively and work harmoniously, Detroit will find itself consistently moving forward. Further, if this is any indication, the new Mayor and the City Council have the potential to take significant strides toward making Detroit the 'destination city' that is spoken about so often. Unlike prior administrations, the new city government (both the Mayor and the Council) seem to understand that you make far more progress by focusing on the small things that can be improved on a daily basis rather than living in a dream world forever focused on years down the road.

Yet, on the heels of Mayor Kilpatrick assuming office comes a long-term plan released by the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau to turn Detroit in to a 'destination city' over the next 10 years. Of course, if this is to happen, Detroit's three casinos will play a major role in creating a 'destination city' image. In theory, the plan sounds brilliant in its early form. It outlines such necessities as cleaning up major freeways around the city and changing the city's image. It also proposes expanding public transit, making it easier for visitors and citizens to get around, as well as tidying up the downtown area. In addition to these goals, the plan encourages the construction of new attractions such as an aquarium on the Detroit River, a Motown Museum and a gondola lift connecting Detroit and Windsor. Combining a handful of these ideas with the already popular draws of the three casinos, Comerica Park, the theater district and a re-emerging nightlife will surely boost the status of the city amongst vacationers and conventioners. The projected effect of the plan would bring the city an added $3 billion a year and would contribute to the creation of roughly 31,000 jobs. Implementing and following the plan will not be easy, but its basic parameters illustrate the possibility of future success for the city of Detroit.

Adding to the excitement surrounding Detroit is the fact that this area will be hosting two major sporting events in the next four years. First, the Professional Golfers' Association will bring the 35th Ryder Cup golf tournament to Bloomfield Hills' Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004. Even though it will draw a significant number of spectators to the greater Detroit area, it will still pale in comparison to the crowds that the 2006 Super Bowl will bring to the city. The casinos will play an important role in hosting these events, not only as entertainment within the city, but by offering hotel rooms and more restaurants, not to mention the potential for smaller, spin-off business that may start cropping up around the casinos. Hosting the Ryder Cup in two years will function as an excellent test run for showcasing the city on a national stage. It will give Detroit a chance to get America buzzing about it just in time to host the most lucrative sporting event in the world two years later.

The immediate change in the city of Detroit as a direct result of casino gaming is evident. Since the three casinos were introduced to the city, there have been significant discussions regarding the rejuvenation of Detroit. The fact is that the casinos have given the city something to look forward to through the revenues which they generate for the city. The casinos have not simply helped the city of Detroit financially, but they have actually enabled the city to bid on bringing in these major events. They have given rise to the planning of future projects, and they are helping develop and improve city services. The casinos have not and will not resolve all of the city's problems, but they do lend a generous hand. The sooner Detroit can move or convert the casinos from their temporary facilities into permanent facilities, the sooner the casinos will realize their full potential and the city will reap all the benefits.

Glancing further into the possibilities the casinos offer, one can see the potential for significant development of small businesses, eateries and retail shops. The completed permanent casinos will draw overnight visitors to the city and increase the opportunities of business district expansion in the downtown area. More multiple-day visitors yield a need for more restaurants, more entertainment options and, of course, more places to spend money. Business development and expansion will not happen overnight, but again, the quicker Detroit can get the permanent casinos erected the quicker the city will be able to encourage additional business district developments. Moreover, the city has already been successful in attracting the Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, and the hotel rooms which the permanent casinos will construct are very important in order for this area to be a good host.

Some may say it is too early to make the claim that bringing casino gaming to Detroit began the city's turnaround. It may be. Nobody can say with certainty that the city of Detroit will follow through on the long-term plans it has laid out. Nobody can be sure the 10-year plan to make Detroit a destination city will be followed, and even if it is, whether or not it will be successful. Nobody can be sure that anything will go as planned regarding the future of Detroit. However, the city can be hopeful, it can work toward common goals, and if all does go as planned, I think we will look back and cite the introduction of casino gaming in Detroit as the starting point for, and as a major contributor to, the true long-term revival of the city.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites: