Plans for the construction of a new $180 million casino near Muskegon are still under consideration, but the green light from the governor is yet to be given and isn’t expected for another half a year.
Last year, Governor Gretchen Whitmer rejected the proposal by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to build a new casino, with the potential to revisit it in the future. The tribe sought to construct the casino on their native land, but the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs failed to recognize the tribe.
In response, the tribe lodged an appeal. The decision will be reached at the conclusion of a 180-day comment period this coming August.
The casino is planned for the intersection of 31/I-96 in Fruitport Township, Muskegon County, a location outside the Little River Band reservation, necessitating state and federal approvals. The federal approval was granted in 2020, but state approval is yet to be secured.
The tribe’s leader, Larry Romanelli, doesn’t hold much hope for a reversal of the Governor’s decision. Despite efforts by the tribe to determine if the Governor would endorse the casino even without tribal recognition, there has been no response from her office.
The key issue with recognition lies in one of the seven criteria that needed to be met. The tribe members should be part of a “distinct community that has existed as a community over time.” The Little River Band, however, is a recently formed entity, consisting of various separate groups that have consolidated into one tribe.
Nonetheless, the tribe has engaged professional historians to establish their long-term existence.
Ron Yob, the Chair of the tribe, stated, “The U.S. Department of Interior has consistently provided support for our endeavors, and we have been gathering evidence of our lengthy history as a unique political community. We remain confident that we will ultimately secure the long overdue federal recognition for our tribal members and deliver long-awaited justice to our members.”
State Senator Jon Bumstead, R-Muskegon, and Representative Will Snyder, D-Muskegon, are urging the Governor to finally endorse the casino, as the likelihood of tribal recognition seems slim.
Despite the odds, the tribe remains hopeful that the casino and a 220-room hotel will be built. They have waited 14 years for approval, investing over $30 million in the proposed casino, and are not ready to give up, particularly because the casino will bring benefits to the entire community. The casino is expected to create 3000 jobs and generate an estimated $10 million annually in state revenue.
However, other Michigan casinos and tribes oppose the construction of this casino because it is located on off-reservation land, which, according to the Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, could trigger a surge in casino gambling operations.
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