House Judiciary Committee opposes Michigan casino

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By Ken Thomas -- Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - A House committee registered its opposition April 2 to two proposed Indian casinos in Michigan that have split the state's congressional delegation.

The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full House reject separate measures that would advance two proposed casinos in Romulus and Port Huron.

Rep. John Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the legislation ''would set a dangerous precedent blazing a wide new pathway to opening new casinos, not just in Michigan, but all over the country.''

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the Bay Mills Indian Community reached agreements in 2002 with the state to take land in Romulus and Port Huron, respectively, and build off-reservation casinos.

The bills would provide land to house the two new casinos in exchange for settling 110 acres of land claims near Charlotte Beach in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Congress needs to approve the deal.

The bills, backed by three Michigan lawmakers, were approved in February by the House Resources Committee and are expected to be considered on the House floor. Conyers has tried to build opposition to the legislation, which is largely under the jurisdiction of the Resources Committee.

Supporters in Congress have said the casinos would create jobs and improve Michigan's economy, which has struggled with the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. They also note that only Congress can settle the land dispute, which dates back to 1855.

Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican from Macomb County's Harrison Township who has pushed for the Port Huron casino, said the Judiciary Committee vote was ''based solely on denying jobs and opportunity to the people of Port Huron in favor to try and protect the turf of the city of Detroit.''

Conyers, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick have opposed the new casinos, arguing that it would circumvent current gambling laws and allow the tribes to acquire prime real estate hundreds of miles from their reservations to build casinos.

They have said it would hurt Detroit's economy and revitalization efforts helped by the establishment of three casinos in the city. Conyers noted that the casinos employ nearly 8,000 residents and have generated more than $1 billion in revenue.

''The establishment of additional casinos ... could undermine the profitability of the three pre-existing casinos. We definitely risk having too much,'' Conyers said.

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