Cars from Grand Rapids, Chicago and Detroit meet at a cloverleaf south of Cadillac in Clam Lake Township. From here they split off onto state highways to Manistee, Traverse City or Petoskey.
All those places have casinos nearby. But Clam Lake might soon have the choice to play blackjack or slots, as well.
Paul Sake, who owns Che Bella Salon and Spa in nearby Cadillac, would like to see a casino here.
“Why should all these people get up here and have supper and grab their damn car and their extra money and that and take off to Traverse City, to Manistee, to where the hell else, and come home broke.” Sake continues, “Stay here. If you’re going to lose your money, lose it here.”
Court Of Appeals Steps In
The state Court of Appeals ruled this week that a proposal to allow eight new casinos in Michigan– including one near Cadillac – violates Michigan’s Constitution.
The group pushing for the new casinos says it will appeal to the state supreme court.
Casino Operators Shrouded In Mystery
If it’s allowed to stay on the ballot and voters approve it, it’s not known who will operate it. Yet backers want their business venture written into the state constitution.
The casino would bring some additional tax dollars here, and might help the township build a sewer system.
Jim Filak, who lives in Clam Lake, has problems with it, though.
“I think a lot of people go to casinos, especially in rough times like this, because they think that’s the only light at the end of the tunnel,” Filak said. “And maybe they lose some money they can’t afford and maybe it creates an addiction with them. It creates a problem for them, and that problem can translate into a problem for the community as a whole.”
The mayor of Cadillac shares these concerns.
He fears the slots and blackjack tables may lead to more home foreclosures. If it survives the court challenge, voters will decide in November whether a casino should be built here and in seven other Michigan communities.
The petition drive was funded by a group called Citizens for More Michigan Jobs.
Just Who Would Operate Casino?
But exactly who would operate and profit from a new casino is not clear.
Last week in court, state appeals Judge Peter O’Connell joked that the mafia could be connected to it.
Emily Palsrok, a spokeswoman for the casino supporters, said there’s more information coming. “A lot of the investors we have involved in this, they have not been making a lot of interviews,” she said. “They’re not being evasive as much as we’re just trying to get our campaign organized. They’re going to be much more vocal and up front moving forward. ”
It’s never been a mystery around Cadillac that Bob Meyer owns the Clam Lake site where the casino would be built. Still, he says he doesn’t know who would buy his property and build or operate the casino there.
Meyer owns the Eldorado Golf Course and Cadillac Grill restaurant and has declined a recorded interview. He did however say he doesn’t know if he would sell his restaurant and golf course to the developer – or continue to run them alongside the casino.
Among the people working for the group is Rick Johnson, former speaker of the State House of Representatives. He’s from Leroy, just south of Cadillac. Johnson did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment.
Opposition Is Clear
The group opposing the new casinos is well known. It’s made up of the owners of existing tribal and Detroit casinos. That group says the state constitution is not the place for granting businesses to individual investors. Emily Palsrok says that’s the only way to get non-tribal casinos approved in Michigan.
“For the opposition to point the finger at the constitution and say this isn’t right, three of the members of the Protect MI Vote group, that’s how they got their casinos,” Palsrok said. “That’s how they got their businesses, was the vote we had in 1996 that was a statewide vote.”
The pro-casino group had planned a public information event for Cadillac-area residents this month. That is on hold, however, pending any further court proceedings.
Casino Initiative May Still Make Ballot
But if the ballot proposal goes ahead, the casino group might want to be more open with local communities about who will be setting up shop. That’s because in addition to the statewide vote, the results in the eight communities will decide the fate of the proposed casinos individually.
That means the 2,400 people in Clam Lake Township have the power to veto the one casino.