Some For, Some Against Michigan License Transfer

By Tom Schram

Groups for and against the proposed transfer of Michigan's Great Lakes Downs racing license had their say at a state racing commission hearing in Lansing July 29. And what they said was nothing more than expected.

Magna Entertainment Corp., the current license-holder, is attempting to transfer its license for the western Michigan bull ring to a group called Richmond Racing. The transfer would clear a roadblock MEC faces in building a new track in Romulus, a suburb of Detroit. Current Michigan law prohibits any entity from holding more than one license.

Most notably speaking for the transfer were the Michigan Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and MEC itself. The horsemen see the benefits of a new track in the state's only major population area.

Speaking against the proposal were Northville Downs, a suburban Detroit harness track opposed to the competition MEC would bring, and Triple Creek, a group of investors led by real estate magnate Sam Danou that is seeking a license to build a new track in the same general area as MEC.

At the hearing, Michigan Racing Commissioner Robert Geake extended the period for written comments on the transfer by a week, to July 16. Geake would not estimate when he would rule on the transfer.

"It's too early to say," Geake said. "We'll see what those comments bring to our attention."

The entire issue may become moot. A bill passed by the Michigan House June 26 contains a provision striking the one-license rule from Michigan racing law. That bill now goes to the Senate.

The number of license applications pending before Geake grew to 11 June 28 when Las Vegas casino owner Don Barden's group Meritus applied for its fifth license. The newest application is for a track in Romulus. Barden had already applied for two other suburban Detroit licenses (Westland and Taylor) as well for two in the City of Detroit.