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State Journal: Follow the bouncing ball; Giving the manatee its due

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A Detroit lawyer has come up with an unusual plan to help bail out the city's financially strapped schools--legalize betting on an obscure Basque sport and skim off part of the tax profits for education.

Under a proposal working its way through the state legislature, Robert Zeff, the lawyer, would receive permission to build a $40-million jai alai pavilion near downtown Detroit. Mr. Zeff, who owns a jai alai ''fronton" in Connecticut and is building a casino in Las Vegas, has commissioned a study indicating that gamblers would wager about $250 million a year on the sport. The school system would reap approximately $5.9 million from taxes on income, property, and wagering.

Jai alai is a handball-like game played by either two opponents or teams. Players wear a long woven basket called a "cesta" on their arm. The object is to hurl a hard, two-inch rubber ball against one of the court's three walls so as to prevent the opposing player from capturing and returning it.

Gambling on jai alai is legal in both Connecticut and Florida. The Michigan proposal, however, faces long odds.

State lawmakers have repeatedly rebuffed Mayor Coleman A. Young's pleas to legalize casino gambling in the city. In addition, a year-long strike by jai alai players in Connecticut does not bode well for the game's future in Michigan, which has a strong pro-labor tradition.

If Gov. Bob Martinez of Florida had his way, students in his state and others might have reading assignments on manatees and alligators, rather than the armadillos of Texas or California condors.

At a recent meeting of the state Cabinet, Mr. Martinez said that as the nation's fourth largest state, Florida should begin using its weight to pressure textbook publishers to include more information about the state in their products.

"I think that we've reached a point where we just shouldn't receive textbooks that ... cite examples of the environment or whatever else of other states, and Florida is not mentioned," the Governor said.

"I like sea lions, but I would rather see a manatee written into a textbook," he added. "The Adirondacks might be nice to talk about, but we've got the Everglades." Mr. Martinez also suggested that Florida might join with nearby states to sway publishers to include in their books items that are common to the region.

The Cabinet, which serves as the state board of education, is expected to take up the matter at a future meeting.--tm

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