The House Always Wins

Don Barden rolled thedice when he anted up millions for a Las Vegas casino. It turned out to be a sure bet.

with gross sales of $91.2 million, earning it the 1992 BE Company of the Year award.

Barden rolled the dice again in 1993 when he decided to explore the casino business after Indiana approved the operation of riverboat casinos. “I thought this would be a way to expand my business and increase my standing in BLACK ENTERPRISE,” Barden quips. “I liked the business, and it involves real estate development, a hotel component, which was something I knew about.”

He then hired an engineer and struck a deal with St. Louis-based President Riverboat Casinos, the nation’s largest riverboat gaming company at the time. In the 50 — 50 partnership, President Riverboat would put up the necessary capital, while Barden Companies would handle all real estate development and securing of necessary licenses. President Riverboat, however, ran into rough times and was unable to come up with its half of the money to develop the casino and pay for slot machines and tables. But Lady Luck smiled on Barden when an opportunity arose to sell his cable business. He sold the cable operations in 1994 to Philadelphia-based Comcast, one of the country’s largest cable operators, to the tune of $300 million. All told, Barden cleared some $110 million. By the following year, he would bid on and win the Gary, Indiana, contract, completing his transition to casino operator, with the opening in June 1996 of the riverboat casino, Majestic Star.

Though Barden generally parlays his ventures into a winning hand, he has rolled snake eyes on occasion. After a 1997 proposal to build a casino in his hometown of Detroit
was rejected, Barden returned the next year with a partner — pop icon Michael Jackson. The pair planned to build a billion-dollar theme park and hotel casino on the city’s riverfront. Unfortunately, the city’s voters shot down the proposal in August 1998.

When the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians claimed the 1997 bidding process was unconstitutional and sought to have it reopened, Barden partnered with the tribe to co-bid on a permit. The bids had been awarded to the operators of the MotorCity, MGM Grand Detroit, and Greektown casinos. The tribe convinced the appeals court that the selection process was unconstitutional, and the appeals court sent the case back to a federal judge for reconsideration. In August 2002, the Detroit City Council approved the three permanent casino agreements negotiated by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, hoping to have construction completed in time for the 2006 Super Bowl hosted by Detroit. But litigation ensued. In September 2002, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told the city of Detroit it couldn’t issue any building permits for permanent gambling parlors until the high court reviews the lawsuit — postponing any planned construction or permanent gaming in the city.

Now, Barden continues to wait on the sidelines hoping the casinos will be re-bid so he can get another shot at ownership — something he was denied under former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, the public official he fought in a much-publicized battle. “If the

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