Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Casinos would fund scholarships under Senate proposal

By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service

LANSING—Some senators are attempting to seek more scholarships for students—even from casinos.

A bill would allow school districts to establish college scholarships for students and graduates from money the districts receive under gaming compacts between the state and Indian tribes. It would also allow school districts to use the money for operational expenses.

Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, said, “My idea came from a school district where an Indian tribe has won a casino and got a big amount of money which could make the school district’s budget solid.

“People in that district wanted to use the money to support their high school seniors but it’s not allowed by law at present,” said Jelinek, the chief sponsor.

If the bill passes, public schools would be able to receive money from tribes that run casinos in their districts to make up for the loss of property taxes.

The co-sponsors are Sens. Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores and Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek.

“The bill won’t take money away from other state purposes because the money is from casinos, not the state,” Jelinek said. “We have raised $1 million so far, and it would help students in postsecondary institutions with their tuition and living expenses.”

The state interacts with tribes on a government-to-government basis and has signed treaties allowing casino gaming in recent years. They are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission and the government of the tribal communities, the Michigan Gaming Control Board said.

Twelve federally-recognized tribes operate 19 casino locations in Michigan.

The state doesn’t have general regulatory authority over them, but does oversee compliance with the state-tribal compacts, according to the board.

The tribes are required to pay 2 percent of their “net win” for local governments.

“We believe it’s a good idea to support some schools especially in the Upper Peninsula, where a lot of schools are having lower headcounts of students,” said Tony Mancilla, tribal attorney for the Hannahville Indian Community in Wilson. “It would offset the negative image of gambling.”

Jelinek said he doesn’t think the proposal would encourage casino gambling by students. “It’s just a matter of helping students to pay their college expenses.”

Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relation of Michigan Association of School Boards, said, “Students would be aware of the source of their scholarships, but it doesn’t necessarily promote casinos.”

The bill is pending in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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