How Will Detroit Spell Economic Relief: To Some Motor City Officials, the Answer Is Casinos

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The Rev. Jim Holley fought to keep casino gambling out of the Motor City. Having lost that battle, Holley is now fighting to ensure that African Americans collect a share of the winnings when casinos do arrive.

Holley serves on a special gambling commission appointed by Michigan Gov. John Engler. "It's incumbent on us to make sure that black people are involved," Holley says.

For decades, Detroit voters rejected casino gambling referendums. But the new casino in Windsor, Ontario--just across the Detroit River--apparently changed a lot of minds. Since opening in May of 1994, the Windsor casino has become one of the most lucrative in North America, raking in an estimated $1 million a day.

In hopes of providing a similar economic stimulus in Detroit, voters there approved two casino proposals in an August 1994 referendum. At least three other plans are also being debated.

Of the voter-approved plans, one calls for a $65 million casino in the Greektown district, in downtown. The casino would be owned by the Chippewa Indians of northern Michigan and managed by Detroit developers Ted Gatzaros and Jim Papas.

Voters also backed a plan by Atwater Entertainment Associates to build a casino on the Detroit River. Atwater is made up of about 40 mostly Detroitarea investors, many of them African Americans, who have put a total of $1.5 million into the plan.

The original Atwater plan has expanded dramatically, thanks to the backing of Las Vegas-based Mirage Resorts. Mirage-Atwater wants to build a $500 million complex, featuring a hotel, theaters and a shopping mall. Attorney Johnie Cochran is one of the investors in the project. …