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Kenyatta: Create Detroit lottery or
city-owned casino to balance budget

Kwame Kenyatta

There have been a number of recommendations made to help eliminate the city of Detroit's structural deficit and cash flow shortfall. They have included 10 percent cuts to nonunion and union employees; a 10 percent wholesale cut of all city of Detroit employees; benefit cuts; privatizing some services, and leasing out others.

There are many other creative options that we must also be willing to explore. One such idea is a Detroit lottery with revenue dedicated to police, fire and EMS, which are the city's largest budget items and the biggest taxpayer expense.

The Michigan lottery currently generates more than $2 billion statewide. It generates approximately $618 million annually within Wayne County, of which Detroit is the largest city with the greatest participation.

A Detroit lottery would not cripple the Michigan lottery or other national lotteries such as the MegaMillions that cities choose to participate in. A successful Detroit lottery could potentially free the state as well as Detroit's citizens from the budget burden they now carry.

A possible model for Detroit is Washington, which operates a lottery for the District of Columbia that helps to fund education, recreation and parks, public safety, housing, and senior and child services. The D.C. Lottery has distributed almost $1.5 billion to its general fund.

If the state Legislature opposes a Detroit lottery, then Detroiters should also explore holding an annual charity raffle with revenue committed to public safety. Conversely, a state-run, scratch-off lottery ticket with proceeds that would benefit Detroit is another option. These options would be comparable to the Massachusetts State Lottery, which divides its earnings among its cities. For Fiscal Year 2008, Boston received more than $71 million. Something similar could also generate millions of dollars for Detroit.

One other proposal that should be considered is creating a Detroit-owned casino. Among Detroit's three casinos, Greektown is in bankruptcy and looking for an owner. We should explore whether the Detroit pension funds or a state bond could help Detroit purchase the Greektown casino, which could be managed by an industry-leading management group.

A Detroit-owned casino as well as the lottery and raffle proposals would generate millions of dollars for the Detroit budget. They would effectively free taxpayers from carrying the burden and ultimately allow us to reduce taxes, such as income and property taxes.

Furthermore, I envision Belle Isle as an arts, cultural and entertainment destination that could generate revenue for the city through tourism and increased use by Detroiters. This could include the reopening of the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Belle Isle Zoo in addition to restaurants, games and retail outlets such as gift shops.

What is clear is that all options and recommendations must be on the table for consideration and possible implementation.

I am confident that Detroiters will also keep an open mind as we navigate this rough terrain together. All ideas should be explored and Detroiters who have a stake in the City's fiscal future must be engaged in this discussion.

Kwame Kenyatta is a member of the Detroit City Council. E-mail comments to letters@detnews.com. Ideas can be submitted to K-Kenyatta_mb@detroit.mi.gov or (313) 224-1198.