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Helena, Montana

Destination plan down, but not out
By Charles S. Johnson of The Montana Standard (Standard State Bureau)

April 3, 2003

Developer says he'll be back. . . 

Although "Destination Montana" partners have given up trying to pass a bill in the 2003 Legislature to allow wide-open gambling in part of Butte, a partner said Wednesday they'll return at the earliest opportunity to try again to pass the same measure that stalled in the House this week. 

"We have no time to have something relevant for this particular session to answer the relevant questions," said Barrett Singer of West Palm Beach, Fla., a partner of Foxx Industries, the developers of "Destination Montana," a proposed $1.8 billion project in Butte. 

"But the project is viable, and we will proceed with it," Singer said in a telephone interview. "We need to come back for approval of gambling. 

"I want to thank everybody who has spent so much time working for the project," Singer added. "I have never had the support of a community like I have in Butte, and the rest of the people in Montana that have come together so strongly for our project. I want to thank those people." 

Singer and the other developer, Robert Tormey of Dayton, Ohio, huddled with Butte and Anaconda legislators, Evan Barrett, executive director of the Butte Local Development Corp., and "Destination Montana" lobbyists in the Capitol Tuesday to strategize. In the end, they decided to abandon another effort this session. 

On Tuesday, the House rejected the group's legislation, House Bill 757, by Rep. John Witt, R-Carter, on a 59-41 vote. Neither Witt nor Butte legislators made any move Wednesday to revive the bill. 

Even if they could have changed some votes, HB 757 faced deadline problems. Barring a two-thirds' majority vote to suspend the rules, HB 757 would have had to receive debate-stage approval by Wednesday and a final vote today All tax bills such as HB 757 need to be shipped to the other chamber by today or they automatically die. 

Asked when the "Destination Montana" partners would return to the Legislature, Singer said, "At the earliest opportunity. We will come back and pre sent the same bill. I'm coming back with the same bill, the same project, but with answers to questions about the project that were posed to us." 

Montana's Legislature meets in regular sessions for 90-working days every two years. This session is scheduled to end April 29. Lawmakers won't convene in regular session until January 2005, barring a special legislative session, called by the governor to address specific issues, which can be expanded to other topics by a majority of legislators. 

Asked if "Destination Montana" partners are looking to bring back its bill during a potential special session or by a voter-initiative, Singer said: "We are keeping all of our options open, and we will be back at the earliest appropriate time." 

Singer said he believed the bill died on the House floor because backers weren't able to answer all the questions raised by legislators. 

Timing also was an issue, he said. The bill wasn't formally introduced until March 20 and heard by the House Taxation Committee on March 27. 

"Timing has been a factor from the very beginning," Singer said. "We have been going as fast as we could." 

Singer said the supporters' efforts "have not been in vain ... We will be back and we plan to succeed." 

HB 757 would have created a special entertainment and music district in Butte. Ten casinos in the entertainment district would be allowed to offer all forms of gambling except sports betting and including slot machines, blackjack, craps and roulette, with no betting or prize limits. They could be open 24 hours a day, unlike other bars and casinos. 

Destination Montana backers said they also planned to build 40 music halls in Butte like those in Branson, Mo., a theme park, three professional quality golf courses, six high-altitude training camps for professional and amateur athletics, a 10,000-seat stadium and a convention center. The backers said the proposal would create more than 24,000 permanent jobs in southwestern Montana and nearly 14,000 elsewhere in the state. The project would have raised $376 million every two years for state government, they said. 

Copyright Charles S. Johnson and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.


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