Owner of business empire may put casino on Coast - Thursday 12th of May 2005

Don Barden, the owner of a Detroit-based international conglomerate, is looking to put one of his Fitzgerald Casinos on the Coast.He shopped for real estate Thursday afternoon, after his keynote address to the Southern Gaming Summit. Barden, who already has a casino in Tunica, is the first African-American to wholly own a national casino company."Companies like myself will be going after new jurisdictions, places like Pennsylvania and expanding our existing base of operations, such as in Mississippi, Indiana and other places where we are welcome," he said in his speech.Asked if he was considering the Coast after the speech, he answered, "Yes. In fact, I'm going this afternoon to look around.

"The ninth of 13 children, Barden built a business empire in real estate development, entertainment, automotive sales, casinos and service and manufacturing industries. He is the owner, chairman and chief executive officer of Barden Companies Inc., the Majestic Star Casino, Waycor Development Co. and Namibia, Africa-based Barden International Inc."If I can do it from my humble beginnings, you can do it as well," he told his audience.Packing what few clothes he had into a paper bag, he hitchhiked from his rural community outside Detroit to attend college after graduating from high school. He had to quit after one year because he could not afford to continue even though he said he tried everything from cutting hair to bootlegging wine to make money.He wound up with a job in a company mailroom."I reorganized that mailroom," he said.

 "I developed a replenishment system so supplies would be reordered automatically."Within two years of being hired, he was working as a special assistant to the president of the company."Though I did not have a formal education, over the past 30 or 40 years I have earned a Ph.D. in many areas," he said.He noted that while many states offer tax abatements and pay for the training of workers for manufacturing companies, they look at casinos as a source of special revenue and seek to impose high taxes."Places like Illinois don't understand that you're not going to have high-level investment if you have a high tax rate," he said.Casino companies end up building the bare minimum instead of luxury resorts in high-tax jurisdictions, he said.

 Barden encouraged those who make purchasing decisions for casinos to buy from small, independent companies, including those owned by women and minorities. He asked those who make hiring decisions to consider workers who have been displaced because of mergers."That's why it's important to expand," he said. "So we can absorb all that talent, and there's much talent out there."

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