House Resolution Suggests Approval For Muskegon County Casino May Be In Danger

Posted By Derek Helling on March 4, 2021

If a new Michigan House resolution is an accurate thermometer for the temperature of the body regarding a Muskegon County casino approval, it might be time for those behind the project to start worrying. The language of the resolution is unfriendly, and the lower chamber of the MI legislature has a part to play in the process.

At issue are the interests of other tribal gambling groups in MI and the expansion of gambling in the Great Lakes State. Whether that will become a serious roadblock for the hypothetical casino near Fruitport Township is uncertain.

The resolution and its possible meaning for Muskegon County Casino approval

Last week, the House approved a resolution regarding Michigan casinos. In short, it opposes the “unchecked proliferation of off-reservation gaming” that it contends isn’t allowable under the current terms of tribes’ gaming compacts.

The resolution calls upon Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to oppose new tribal casino initiatives that involve off-reservation sites. It has the support of three tribal groups that operate casinos in the immediate area.

A legislative body’s resolution is like an opinion from an attorney general’s office. It is an official statement from a person in a governmental role, but it does not bear the force of law.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t a significant move, however. The site for the proposed casino isn’t within the borders of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ reservation. Thus, the tribal group that already operates one casino in Manistee would need to re-negotiate its compact with the state.

That was a foregone conclusion, anyway, as the compact only allows for the tribe to operate one casino. Everything seemed to be moving along great until last week.

In October of 2020, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs published its Final Environmental Impact Statement, an important precursor to getting federal approval for the casino.

While this resolution probably won’t affect the process of federal approval, it has major implications on the state level. Regardless, local community and tribal leaders expressed confidence in their eventual success.

What the resolution points to and what the casino’s backers can do about it

Any new compact between Michigan and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians requires legislative approval. This resolution suggests getting that from the House may prove difficult. This is also an issue that doesn’t appear to have an obvious compromise.

House members oppose new casinos on non-tribal lands. The proposed site for this casino, just off Interstate 96, is ready-made for such a facility. It’s a former racetrack with solid access and a spokesperson for the Little River Band says that many members of the tribe’s community live nearby.

The local community seems to support the project as well. That’s primarily because estimates show 1,500 new permanent jobs when the casino is up and running. So, relocating the project onto a parcel of the tribal group’s reservation is not really feasible.

Despite the potential impasse, the Little River Band remains optimistic.

“Our focus now is working with the governor to approve the process and approve the casino,” said Ottawa spokesperson Tom Shields.

The ease of that process may have just hit a snag. To what extent that delays or kills off the casino proposal will come down to swaying minds in Lansing.

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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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