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Michael Jackson Rolls The Dice

Eight months ago, millionaire black businessman Don Barden was denied a piece of the action when Detroit began handing out its first casino licenses.

Barden angrily called Mayor Dennis Archer's rejection of his bid "a slap in the face" to the mostly black city.

And he vowed he would not fold.

Now Barden has upped the ante dramatically.

This week, with Michael Jackson at his side, he announced a proposal to build a colossal, $1 billion entertainment-and-casino complex in Detroit that would be bankrolled in part by Jackson, one of the world's biggest black stars.

Jackson's involvement could give Barden a tremendous boost in his showdown with the mayor Aug. 4, when Detroit voters will decide in a referendum whether Barden should be given a casino license.

"I think that what Mr. Barden has done has raised stakes in this high-profile casino warfare," political analyst Mario Morrow said. "Archer has definitely been backed in a corner. Archer is going to have to answer the questions about black empowerment, about what Barden has proposed to do."

Even if Barden's proposal passes, the city or the other license holders could go to court. And his casino plan would still need the approval of the City Council and the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which subjects all applicants to background checks to see if they are morally fit. That could reopen the child-molestation allegations against the pop star.

The mayor has said that "everybody had a fair and equal opportunity to compete," and he said he will campaign vigorously against the pro-Barden measure, which, if successful, could stall the opening of three Detroit casinos.

"Each day, I can see the tangible evidence of what the delays have done," Archer said. "A delay of one day is too long."

In 1995, Michigan voters approved casino gambling in Detroit. The mayor ultimately awarded licenses to three developers, rejecting Barden's bid as financially unstable.

In doing so, Archer turned away what would have been the city's only casino wholly owned by a black Detroiter. Barden's backers lashed out, labeling the black mayor a "sellout" and "Uncle Tom." They launched a petition drive to ask voters if Barden should get a license.

The project unveiled this week would be called Majestic Kingdom and employ about 6,000 people. It would include a casino, a hotel, botanical gardens, nightclubs, restaurants and the Michael Jackson Thriller Theme Park, with a roller coaster enclosed in a bubble for wintertime rides.

Written by Jim Suhr ©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed