On Wednesday, May 4, Detroit commercial casinos MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino Hotel and Greektown Casino Hotel gathered for a joint Economic Development Roundtable that was organized and sponsored by the American Gaming Association (“AGA”) as part of its “Get to Know Gaming 

From L to R: Richard K. Studley (MI Chamber of Commerce), Geoff Freeman (American Gaming Association), Jason Gregorec (Greektown Casino Hotel), Bruce Dall (MotorCity Casino  Hotel), Steve Zanella (MGM Grand Detroit), Brenda Jones (Detroit City Council).

Campaign.” The casino executives were joined by Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14); Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones; Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA; and Roundtable moderatorRichard K. Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Studley noted that the Michigan Business Community, and more specifically the southeastern Michigan area, has benefited tremendously over the last 20 years from the job creation, capital investment, and a world-class tourism destination that the three casinos have provided.  Council President Jones noted that the steady stream of predictable casino wagering tax revenues has been a critical component to the City of Detroit, and the gaming industry was a central piece of the City’s recent exit from Bankruptcy.  She stated that “the thousands of stable, good paying casino jobs have further benefited the City.”

Bruce Dall, CFO of MotorCity Casino Hotel noted that his property alone has spent over $2 billion with vendors since opening in 1999, and of this “50% has been spent with targeted and local businesses.”  Mr. Dall recognized MIG Construction and Sherwood Food Distributors as two local Detroit businesses that were in attendance as examples of the strong partnerships his property has developed with casino vendors to ensure the business community benefits.  In addition, the Detroit casinos have benefitted from an open dialogue with the Michigan Gaming Control Board and that partnership continues to do a good job of attracting investment to the Detroit casinos. 

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA, provided a forward looking analysis of where the casino industry is heading and the issues that will continue to be important to educate lawmakers, regulators, and the public at large to ensure the industry can continue to provide a positive economic impact.   Mr. Freeman noted that “as the industry seeks to continue to provide a relevant entertainment product to the next generation the legalization of sports wagering needs to be revisited and efforts need to be made to overturn federal legislation that limits this activity to Nevada.”   He noted that during the recent NCAA March Madness there was $200 million wagered legally in Nevada casinos, while another estimated $9.2 billion was wagered illegally across the United States.    He stated that the NBA has come out in support of legalization efforts and Major Legal Baseball has stated it is time to take a fresh look at the industry.  Mr. Freeman also educated the audience to the fact that just across the border, in Windsor, Ontario, the Canadian government is looking at overturn its ban and permit sports wagering similar to what is authorized in Nevada.   

Steve Zanella, President and COO for MGM Grand Detroit said that his company looks forward to continue to reinvest in its facility and noted that “predictability in taxation policy” is one of the most important aspects in ensuring MGM Grand Detroit can reinvest.  Mr. Zanella stated that, between the permanent and temporary casino, his corporation has invested over $1.2 billion in capital investment in the region.   “Assuming we continue to have a stable tax structure the company will be able to continue to plan for the future and keep its product fresh,” stated Mr. Zanella.

Mr. Dall discussed the health of the Michigan gaming market and stated that, with 24 casinos, the state is a very mature market and warned against the adverse implications that could occur if additional casinos are authorized within the state.  Mr. Dall noted that assuming the casino market continues to benefit from a stable tax model and no additional competition is introduced, then the future will be extremely bright for Detroit as not only will the casinos continue to reinvest, but the region will also benefit from Mr. Dan Gilbert’s investment in the downtown, along with what the Ilitch family is doing within its District Detroit and new Red Wings stadium.  

Jason Gregorec, GM and CEO, Greektown Casino provided a firsthand look at the job growth opportunities that the casino gaming offers in Detroit to its more than 6,000 employees.  Mr. Gregorec said that he began in the casino gaming industry first as a bartender, later transitioning to a dealer and finally into the ranks as senior management; he is now the CEO of Greektown Casino Hotel.    Mr. Gregorec celebrated the customer-focused approach that the Gilbert enterprise takes towards running its gaming facility.  He stated that not only is Greektown Casino Hotel focused on providing the best customer experience, but it is also completing a $70 million capital investment project.

Congresswomen Brenda Lawrence said that she has been amazed at the “eye opening experience it has been for her to learn about all of the skilled trade jobs that are part of the casino industry.”   Congresswomen Lawrence emphasized that the economy of the future needs industries that support skill trade jobs and the casino industry is one of those that “the public at large needs to understand is not only a great entertainment destination, but they generate jobs that are in great demand in urban areas across the county.”  The Congresswoman noted that regulatory and public policies need to support the industry in order to ensure that not only do government’s benefit from the high level of taxation that the industry pays but also through the creation of jobs.  

City Council President Jones built upon the Congresswoman’s point and noted that state policy needs to be reviewed in order to ensure that small businesses can benefit from the Detroit casinos.  She stated that she would ask the state to look at its policies for registering small businesses and seek to reduce the regulatory and licensing burdens. 

Mr. Freeman further observed that both at the federal and state level regulatory policies need to be looked at with a “fresh” eye to ensure that the industry can 1) grow; 2) re-invest in its capital infrastructure and 3) compete with the numerous entertainment options that customers can chose from.  Mr. Freeman noted that during the last 20 years, the casinos have been a great economic development tool for the Detroit region, but challenged casino operators, suppliers, and governmental leaders to explore changes to ensure that the success of the last 20 years can continue into the future. 

Watch the Facebook Live video of the event on AGA’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/americangaming/


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