Indianhead Tribal Casino Project Seeks Grant To Push Itself Further Down The Road

Posted on January 12, 2021

Whether there will eventually be a Michigan tribal casino on Indianhead Mountain is still a matter that’s very much up in the air. If the nearby county in the Upper Penninsula is able to secure a grant from the state, that will push hopes further down the road for the Indianhead tribal casino.

The Gogebic County Road Commission is hoping to get over a million dollars from the state coffers to rebuild a road necessary to access the potential future gambling property. Even if that effort is successful, though, there’s still a long road ahead.

Michigan tribal casino project needs a path to success

The road, which connects US 2 to the proposed casino and hotel site, is currently not in a state to handle the kind of traffic such a facility would produce. The GCRC could get as much as $1.4 million to rebuild it.

The Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in Watersmeet has committed to pay the 30% matching requirement necessary to receive the grant. The tribe already owns a tract of 20 acres for an off-reservation resort in 2014 near Wakefield Township.

If funding comes through, the commission plans to start construction in 2022. Local municipalities and businesses, including the township and Big Snow Resort, have expressed support for a casino in the area.

They hope to capitalize on tourism traffic in the area. People from nearby states and elsewhere in Michigan come to ski and enjoy the mountain scenery. Big Snow Resort is often booked solid, signaling the need for more accommodations.

Indianhead tribal casino plans in the U.P.

To be fair, the concept of a casino on Indianhead Mountain has been in the works for six years.

In 2014, the tribe signed a letter of intent with the owners of the ski resort. The Indianhead gambling plans call for the construction of a casino and a hotel at the site.

The hotel would feature 140 beds and include an attached casino and retail, with the goal of a high-end destination resort in the western U.P. The resort and casino are expected to bring 200 jobs to the area.

Once the road is complete, the tribe can start on its plans for an Indianhead tribal casino. That will likely include the hotel and retail locations at first. That’s because getting a casino up and running is a bit more complicated. Because it would be a tribal casino, the road forward may be a bit winding.

How to get a tribal casino into the fast lane

For the most part, the new Indianhead tribal casino has overwhelming support from the surrounding community. However, because the 20-acre site isn’t part of a reservation, the tribe needs the federal government to intervene on its behalf. The US Department of the Interior must take the land into trust. Getting that done can be a bit bumpy.

Keeping it between the lines when gambling is involved adds a degree of difficulty. The tribe has already been working on the application for years. In order to get the desired result, the tribe has to convince the DOI the use of the land will provide a net benefit to the tribe.

Fortunately, the tribe has some experience. They operate the Northern Waters Casino Resort in Watersmeet. Another possible development in their favor is that President-Elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the DOI is herself a Native American.

That’s no guarantee of success, however. At this point, there’s still no timeline for a casino on the acreage. That’s the long-term hope, though. If the GCRC grant proposal comes through, they’ll be on the road to success.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago, IL. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law. Recently, he has written about the expanded gambling industry in Michigan, including online sports betting, online casinos, and the cornerstone land-based casino market.

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