After U.P. Casino Balks, What Michigan Casino Will Be The First To Reopen?

Posted on May 5, 2020

After more than a month with no bets in the state, one Michigan casino was planning to reopen Wednesday.

But after the Upper Peninsula’s Island Resort and Casino decided to change course and not open this week, what Michigan casino will be the first one to open?

Detroit’s three commercial casinos are closed through at least May 28 because of an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to fight the spread of COVID-19. Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino have been closed since March 16.

But since 23 of Michigan’s 26 casinos are operated by the state’s 12 federally recognized Native American tribes, that leaves the decision to open in their hands as they are autonomous.

Island Resort and Casino reschedules reopening

The Hannahville Indian Community announced Friday it would reopen the Island Resort and Casino this Wednesday.

The Harris casino, near Escanaba, had been closed since March 21 with an originally planned reopening on April 6. After a few extensions of that date, Wednesday will be exactly one month later than the original plan.

However, the casino reversed course on Tuesday night, saying instead they plan to reopen on May 16.

The casino was planning to have several precautions in place to keep customers safe, including temperature checks at the casino entrance, plexiglass barriers between some players, and only slot machines opening at first.

The rest of the facility, including the golf courses and hotel, would open later on a phased-in approach.

Reaction mixed about casino reopening plans

The original announcement, pinned to the top of the casino’s Facebook page, was doing huge engagement numbers compared to the norm.

As of Tuesday morning, nearly 600 had shared the post and more than 600 people commented on it, with a huge range in sentiment from support to heavy criticism.

But the postponement of the opening was also met with big numbers, with 650 shares on Tuesday night about, three hours after it was posted.

Upper Peninsula, northern Michigan could open first

The Upper Peninsula has not been hit nearly as hard by the pandemic than the Detroit area, which is about a 4-hour drive to the Mackinac Bridge, which separates the state’s peninsulas.

In all, Michigan had reported 4,135 deaths as of Monday evening, third-most of any state.

But Menominee County, which Island Resort and Casino is in, has only six COVID-19 cases reported and no deaths, according to the state’s website.

By and large, the U.P. could be a more likely place for more casino openings than the Lower Peninsula.

For instance, Gogebic County where Northern Waters Casino Resort is located in Watersmeet, has five reported COVID-19 cases and one death.

Current status of Upper Peninsula casinos

All 11 of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula casinos are run by Native American tribes.

Here is a list of the U.P. casinos in Michigan and their reopening status:

  • Bay Mills Resort and Casinos (Bay Mills and Kings Club), Brimley: A message sent from the resort’s Facebook account said reopening will be sometime after May 15.
  • Kewadin Casinos, five locations in Christmas, Hessel, Manistique, Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace: Reopening is currently scheduled for May 16.
  • Island Resort and Casino, Harris: Rescheduled Wednesday’s opening until May 16
  • Northern Waters Casino Resort, Watersmeet: On March 31, the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians announced the facility would close through April. On April 25, a Facebook post said: “We will not be opening May 1st. We will post as soon as we have a new opening date. Thank you for your patience.” The facility’s golf course opened for the season on Friday but was closed on Monday because of bad weather.
  • Ojibwa Casinos, Baraga and Marquette: No update was available. The website says: “Both Ojibwa Casinos will continue to remain closed thru the end of April and possibly beyond following Michigan state and Federal recommended guidelines for social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic.” A message from the company’s Facebook account said: “We will post any updates when we have more to share.”

Lower Peninsula casinos remain closed

In addition to Detroit’s three casinos being closed, none of the 12 tribal casinos in the Lower Peninsula have provided reopening dates.

The casinos are: FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek; Four Winds Casinos, three locations in Dowagiac, Hartford, New Buffalo; Gun Lake Casino in Wayland; Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown; Little River Casino and Resort in Manistee; Odawa Casinos, two locations in Mackinaw City and Petoskey; Saganing Eagles Landing Casino in Standish; Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant; and Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel in Williamsburg.

A notice on the Odawa website from general manager Ron Olson referred to Whitmer’s order for a shutdown through May 28 and said, “We will follow this order and remain closed until further notice.”

Bear Lake Highlands in Bear Lake, a golf course owned by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians which owns the Little River casino, opened on Friday.

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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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