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    Editor's note: This story has been updated to revise information in the original version of the story that said Joel Ferguson has formally withdrawn his name from consideration for a position on the Greektown Casino's board of directors.


    Joel Ferguson is choosing Michigan State green over the green being offered to serve on the Greektown Casino Board.


    The chairman of the Michigan State University Board of Trustees told the Michigan Gaming Control Board this week he will not resign his position at MSU for one of seven spots overseeing one of Detroit's three casinos, a venture that would have paid him $210,000 in stock and benefits immediately and $85,000 annually for five board meetings a year. The move  effectively takes him out of the running for the Greektown position barring a change of position by the gaming board or an unlikely change in state law.


    Selected last summer to serve on the
    Greektown Casino board, Fergusons appointment ran into a roadblock when
    the casinos attorney pointed out a state law banning any elected
    official from serving on a casino board.


    For the last several months, Ferguson
    thought he might be able to maneuver around the state law or change it
    altogether. After all, appointed board members to most every other
    university board, like the Eastern Michigan University board, could
    serve on a casino board without an issue. Its only because MSU board
    members are elected that Fergusons appointment ran into an issue.


    Ferguson recently asked Attorney General Bill Schuette for clarification on the issue.


    The new AG suggested Ferguson lobby for a
    one-sentence change to the state casino law that would have defined a
    "governmental unit" as a "county, city, township, village, or state or
    federal agency or department that has regulatory or other governmental
    authority over the casinos."


    But Ferguson learned Greektown and
    Detroits two other casinos were nervous about the Legislature opening
    up the states casino law out of fear that lawmakers would insert
    Detroit Mayor David Bings proposal to raise the casinos taxes 3
    percentage points as a way to raise $20 million for the
    cash-strapped-city.


    Without a change in the law, the Michigan
    Gaming Control Board was set in June or August to reject Fergusons
    appointment to the Greektown Board if he didnt step down from the MSU
    Board. Forced to make a decision, Ferguson went with MSU, even though
    the position pays nothing.


    "It would be hard to look my grandkids in
    the eye if I chose money over where I think Im needed, especially at
    this time," said Ferguson, who has been elected to the board three
    times, most recently in 2004. Since his eight-year term expires at the
    end of 2012, his decision suggests he plans to run for re-election.


    "With budget issues and with higher ed
    getting less than it used to,” he added, “the last thing we need is for
    those of us who have been there awhile to bail out."


    Had Ferguson, a prominent Lansing
    developer and Democrat, resigned from the MSU board, it would have had
    significant political implications. Gov. Rick Snyder would have been put
    in the position to appointment Fergusons replacement. Snyder,
    presumably, would have picked a Republican, making the MSU board a 4-4
    partisan split. Vice Chairwoman Melanie Foster, a Republican, likely
    would have ascended to the chair’s position.


    Ferguson dismissed the partisan
    implications of his decision, but did point out that at least two
    prominent Democrats talked to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm before she
    left office about Fergusons position if he were to step down before she
    left office on Dec. 31, 2010. Sources said they were former Gov. James
    Blanchard and state AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney.


    It was politics that made the law that is
    now thwarting Fergusons plans. Back when the Detroit casino proposal
    was being developed in the mid-1990s, Ferguson applied to run one of the
    casinos.


    Former Gov. John Engler saw an
    opportunity to make an appointment on the MSU board and made sure the
    law banning public officials from any business decisions at a casino was
    written broadly enough to cover Ferguson, said John Truscott, Englers
    former spokesman.


    “We figured Joel would follow the money
    so we thought wed free him from his obligation at MSU," said Truscott,
    who operates a Lansing public relations firm with Kelly
    Rossman-McKinney.


    The deal never went through for Ferguson, a professed casino table player, but the law did.


    "So this thing came back to bite me 15 years later," Ferguson said.


    Since Fergusons Greektown appointment
    was publicized last summer, the prominent MSU sports booster has been
    heavily lobbied to stay at Michigan State. MSU mens basketball coach
    Tom Izzo even got into the act, giving Ferguson a call from the golf
    course with MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis.


    "Tom was saying, You cant leave,"
    Ferguson said. "I said, Tom, if I think I can do both but if I have to
    make a decision Ill stay without them putting yard signs all over
    town."


    The reference was to the public campaign
    launched only months prior to keep Izzo in East Lansing despite a
    tempting offer to take a head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers
    in the NBA.


    Even some Republicans didnt want to see
    Ferguson go. "Im not shocked that hell continue to serve,” former
    board member David Porteous said. “I know how much he loves and it and
    how much hes making a difference."

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