Gambling on our future

You have to admire the brashness of the creatures who own Detroit’s casinos. Having moved heaven and earth and spent vast sums to persuade the voters to allow “gaming” in Detroit a few years ago, they’re now fighting hard to prevent anyone else from getting a piece of the action.

That, in a nutshell, is what Proposal 1 on the statewide ballot is about. Worried that the state’s dying racetracks would install video gambling terminals, or that someone else will find a new way to separate gaming morons from their money, the casinos want to enshrine their monopoly in the state Constitution.

Naturally, they don’t come right out and say that. Here’s how Proposal 1 would work, if the voters approve it. Nobody could start any new form of gambling unless it’s approved by both a local and a statewide vote. Of course, the proposal exempts (surprise!) the existing casinos.

Practically speaking, that means no new gambling, ever. Even if I could persuade my Huntington Woods neighbors, say, to allow Fat Jack’s Palace of Craps in my back yard, the chances of getting a proposal on a statewide ballot, let alone getting voters in Bay City to go for it, is nonexistent.

Now if you feel that we don’t need any new gambling anyway, join the club. Frankly, I’m not entirely happy with voting no for that very reason.

There’s no way of getting around the fact that gambling is a parasitical activity that builds nothing, produces nothing, and, in many cases, wrecks lives and families. Millions of dollars go every week into our three Detroit casinos.

And what comes out? Have the casino profits rebuilt Detroit’s shattered neighborhoods? Have they produced a flurry of satellite businesses and hotels giving new jobs to thousands? You know the answer. They send money from those who can little afford it to wealthy people who do not live here.

Maybe if I were a supply-side economist I could pretend that the answer for our financial woes would be for everybody to open a casino in his linen closet, but, somehow, I’m still too sane. Unfortunately, even with the worst intentions, there’s a limited amount of money to be lost, even in this affluent society.

We do not need more gambling. But neither should we want to give the casinos we have now a veto power over anything, including how the state makes money. Gov. Jennifer Granholm sensibly opposed Proposal 1, fearing it might restrict the state’s need to get creative, if need be, with the lottery.

What we need to do is vote NO, oppose further gambling for now, but send this question back to the Legislature, which is reportedly paid to figure out and hash out policies in a way that will further the public good.


What About Proposal E? For Detroit residents only, this is the proposal that will determine what happens next with the city’s schools. Five years ago, the state took control of the school board, and control was turned over to a mayor-appointed board that hired an all-powerful CEO. (The governor, however, retained a vote and veto power on the board.)

Now voters face a choice of a new nine-member school board, elected by districts, which would then confirm or reject a schools CEO nominated by the mayor. In practice, this really means the mayor’s man will be running the schools.

That’s what you get if you vote yes. Vote no, and the schools will go back to being run much as they were before the takeover. There will be an 11-member school board, seven elected by district and four at large. That board would then have the authority to hire (and fire) a school superintendent.

There’s arguably nothing as important as making sure any city’s public schools do the best job possible educating the next generation. Unfortunately, this has largely turned into a referendum on Kwame Kilpatrick. Those who trust the mayor back it; those who don’t are urging a no vote. Kilpatrick has kept an unusually low profile in the “Vote Yes” campaign, perhaps in part because his own kids are in private schools and he apparently doesn’t plan to move them, even if E passes.

There are valid arguments both ways. Those who are backing the “vote no” campaign, such as Sharon McPhail — who plans to run for mayor herself — often tend to downplay the outrageous and very real abuses committed by the old school board, which abused funds and meddled constantly and destructively.

On the other hand, there’s a very real question as to whether the schools should be tied to the political fortunes of any mayor. And there’s a question of fundamental political rights.

“If people in Eastpointe decide they want to pick Boo-Boo the Fool to run their schools, and he steals all their money and ruins the schools, they may be stupid, but that’s their right,” McPhail says. “And [state legislators] don’t go take it over, either.”

Detroiters suspect Lansing found it easier to take over their schools because the citizens are poor and black. I suspect there’s more than a little truth to that.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the schools were an appalling mess, and that their real clients, the children, have no vote at all. Detroiters need to figure out which option is most likely to ensure that their children emerge from the schools with a fighting chance to succeed.


It Can’t Happen Here? If you want to know what really happened in Florida last time — and how clean our election will be — Second Baptist Church of Detroit is having a fascinating program starting at 5 p.m. Friday. They’ll show Unprecedented, an award-winning documentary about the 2000 election, followed by a discussion with the head of the NAACP, the Detroit and Wayne County clerks, and other worthies. The church is at 441 Monroe St., and there’s free parking in the Greektown Parking Structure on Brush (not Shrub) Street.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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