Michigan Racing Commissioner to Leave Post

by Tom Schram

Michigan Racing Commissioner Robert Geake said he would leave his post when his term expires at the end of December, and that he hopes to make the long-awaited decision on granting a suburban Detroit racetrack license before he goes.

Geake, a former Republican state legislator, was appointed by then-Gov. John Engler to fill out the term of commissioner Annette Bacola, who resigned in December 2002. Democrat Jennifer Granholm won the governor's office that year and was sworn in early in 2003.

"The governor has the appointment and she's a Democrat, and I was appointed by a Republican," Geake said Dec. 7. "Ordinarily in Michigan, the appointee is in the party of the governor."

Geake said he hadn't spoken with Granholm and didn't expect to. He said granting the one license available from the four applicants for the metropolitan Detroit track was a priority.

"I would very much like to get this done," he said. "It would be nice to have it cleaned up before I leave. I'm hoping, but I'm not positive. It depends on what the status of their applications is."

Geake said he planned to speak to officials from Magna Entertainment Corp., which has acquired land in the Detroit suburb of Romulus. It plans to build a racetrack there if granted a license.

There are also three applications on Geake's desk for the license available in the city of Detroit. Geake said that because none of those applicants has acquired the land on which to build a track, there would be no decision on that license on his watch.

Geake had no hesitation about what he has enjoyed the most in his short tenure in office.

"All the great people I've had the opportunity to work with in Michigan racing," he said. "That's certainly been the high point. The biggest disappointment has been the passage of Proposal 1 in November."

Proposal 1 amended the Michigan constitution so any expansion of non-Indian gambling in the state would require both a statewide and local vote of approval. That makes the establishment of video lottery terminals at racetracks much more difficult.

Many in the industry see racinos as vital to restoring the health of racing in Michigan, something that, through no fault of his own, Geake has witnessed over the last two years.

"My disappointments all revolve around the fact that it's so difficult to keep racing going in a state where betting and purses are declining," he said.