From the Editor
"There's nothing wrong with gambling so long as it's done with moderation.
What's the difference if you're paying $100 for a round of golf or $100 to gamble so long as you're having fun?"
as interviewed in The Grand Rapids Press
First off, let me say that Ms. Moore is not my wild, fun-loving, C-note & L-wedge-packing aunt from Newaygo. She's no relation. Her quote was included in a recent article and poll in The Grand Rapids Press about casino gambling in West Michigan. For sure, Moore offers some timely perspective to the controversial issue that's shaking up Michigan's travel and entertainment industry. And as this issue of Michigan Golfer demonstrates, casino gambling is causing a ripple effect in the state's golf pond as well.
Secondly, let me readily admit that I've enjoyed a rare occasion into the casino. Several years ago, my wife won a charity raffle that allowed us to spend a long weekend playing golf with another couple in Las Vegas, the godfather (excuse the expression) of casino gambling in the U.S. It was a marvelous time, playing golf in 100-degree conditions ("Yes, but it's a dry heat," said the kiln) in the day, going to the shows (Cirque de Soliel at Treasure Island is not to be missed!) and trying our luck at blackjack and the slots in the evening. As our wives sat down at the slots at The Mirage one night, my good friend John and I confidently made our way, with our budgeted $75 each in our wallets, to a blackjack table. Surely 75 bucks would get us at least an hour or more at the $3-table with the likely chance of doubling our kitty. Besides they bring you free drinks. That was the plan. Until we met Manny the dealer. Well, Manny wreaked havoc on us. In the next twenty minutes, we watched as Manny won something like 24 out of 25 hands. Talk about being mannyhandled. Most of time, it was dumb bad luck when we lost; other times we took some stupid hits. Either way, we still left the table feeling like Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle getting fleeced in Raleigh. We looked at our empty wallets, our watches, and then each other and said, "Now what do we do?" And the bus back to Mayberry wasn't scheduled to leave until the next morning.
In Michigan, all 11 federally recognized Native American tribes have either opened or have plans to open a casino. In 1993, eight tribes in Michigan signed a gaming compact with the state that led to a total of 14 casinos, 11 of which are in the Upper Peninsula. And just last month, a federal judge in Lansing dismissed a lawsuit challenging the validity of four newer tribal compacts. As a result, casinos planned for New Buffalo, Mackinaw City, Battle Creek and Manistee are set to open without any more legal obstacles.
So the upshot is that casinos are here to stay-whether citizens like it or not. These are major business enterprises with the resources to greatly influence the dynamics of Michigan's travel and hospitality industry. Just look at the enormous impact that Mt. Pleasant's Soaring Eagle Casino has had on its region. Reports say the $260 million casino and hotel complex, largest east of the Mississippi, attracts 15,000 visitors a day. Nearby, the Pohlcat GC has seen a major increase in play since the opening and expansion of the Soaring Eagle. "Golf in Mt. Pleasant has become huge," says Pohlcat owner John Brehm, "because of the Soaring Eagle and the fact that it's half the distance it is up north. And of people that come to the casino some are going to want to sneak over here."
As in the case of Las Vegas with its explosive growth in courses, one could predict casinos building and/or buying local courses to add to their "attraction" base of gaming, hospitality, and entertainment. Often, these casinos are smartly connected into the marketing efforts of regional tourist and travel offices. And the marketing clout they bring to the equation is sizable in terms of dollars. Just the other day I read about a company called Northern Michigan Golf /Casino Tours that's now offering five-day motor coach getaways this summer to the Soaring Eagle and four upscale golf courses.
Is all this good news? Well, for golfers who occasionally like to travel and gamble as an affordable diversion (see Nona Moore again) it's another plus. And regardless of one's personal mores, casino gambling is a voluntary and legal endeavor. There's no compulsory attendance policy at work here as witnessed by those 15k worth of daily visitors in Mt. Pleasant. So on that topic, I have no qualms with Ms. Moore's opinion at the top of the page. And as any guilt-ridden student of American History can attest, Native Americans in our country were treated terribly by our government. Tribes were forced off their land and onto reservations in a shameful "might makes right" dialectic. As Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York said in a recent article, "We've had 200 years of poverty and we don't like it. Gambling may not be the ultimate answer, but at least we're trying something to take charge of our destiny."
I'm sympathetic to Halbritter's words but I'm still troubled when gambling is still seen by too many people and proponents as the "ultimate answer." Generally speaking, gambling's best customers are those who can least afford it. To the underclass, the casino roulette wheel or the state's Big Lotto frequently appears as the only means to financial security. And here's where The Mirage is aptly named. What gambling promises to deliver is so often never there. Far too many people with limited incomes get addicted to gambling as a quick fix out of the daily grind. For some, it's a perversion not a diversion. That's why I'll be interested to read the final report coming out this month from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. After a two-year study, the Commission is expected to urge that state lotteries cut back advertising in distressed communities and that they be forced to fund research and treatment programs for problem gambling. Gambling, no matter how grandiose, is still a poor substitute for a long-term economic growth policy girded by increased savings, a vigorous work ethic, research, education and training. And shouldn't we all be concerned about an oversaturation of gambling-casinos, lottery, sports betting et al-as we do with an oversaturation of $100 golf courses?
As for golf and gambling, that's currently a no-harm-no-foul pairing even with the smell of casino bus fumes in the golf course parking lot. But wouldn't there be a better payoff for Michigan's northern golf industry if instead of casino buses we'd see Northwest Airlines finally delivering on its promise to add commuter service into Gaylord? If Michigan is going to compete with Myrtle Beach and Las Vegas then affordable and convenient air service for Sunbelt golfers is a key. So it all boils down to priorities with a heavy dash of moderation.
I don't know why but when I think about golf and the dicey aspects of our fast-growing gambling culture a favorite quip by George Low to the notorious course hustler and pro Al Besselink comes to mind:
"Loaning you money is like sending lettuce by rabbit."
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