New Tribal Casino In Muskegon County Moves Closer To Reality

Posted By Derek Helling on October 26, 2020

The number of tribal casinos in Michigan is closer to being an even two dozen. A federal agency completed an important procedure vital to a Muskegon County casino project by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs published its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the subject of a tribal casino between the cities of Muskegon and Grand Haven.

There are still a few legal steps before construction can begin, however.

Muskegon County casino plans clear big hurdle

Essentially, this is a big domino that needed to fall the right way for all the other pieces to move for the hopeful proprietors of the casino, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. It’s an assessment of the available options for the economic development of the area in the eyes of the federal government.

That assessment was favorable to using the land for a casino. That news sat well with Larry Romanelli, the ogema or elected leader of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

“This is an incredible step forward in our process to build the Muskegon County Casino Project,” Romanelli stated.

“This was the big one and this basically to me tells me we’re going to have a casino here in Muskegon.”

It’s not a done deal just yet, despite Romanelli’s optimism. There is now a public comment period on the FEIS. The comment period runs for a period of 30 days. Anyone can hand-deliver or mail written comments to:

Ms. Tammie Poitra, Midwest Regional Director

Bureau of Indian Affairs, Midwest Region

Norman Pointe II Building

5600 West American Boulevard, Suite 500

Bloomington, MN 55347

At the conclusion of that period, the bureau and the US Department of the Interior will make final decisions on the tribe’s plans.

What happens next?

If those decisions go favorably for the tribe, the Interior will take the tract of 60 acres into trust for the tribe. That will add to the adjacent 26.5 acres the tribe already owns. Currently, an obsolete racetrack occupies the land.

The next step would be to negotiate a gaming compact with the state. Both the legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must concur with the terms of the compact.

At that point, construction and development could begin. The proposals given a favorable presentation in the FEIS do give many clues to what the facility will offer.

What does the tribe have planned for the new casino?

The plans include everything you would expect out of a tribal casino sprawling out over nearly 87 acres. The proposed features include:

  • 69,000 square feet of gaming floor space
  • 1,700 slot machines
  • 35 table games
  • 220-room hotel
  • Dining and entertainment space
  • Event and meeting rooms

Sports betting will also be among the available amenities at some point. The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians already offers sports betting at the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee. The River Rock Sportsbook & Grill opened in July and is powered by Kambi.

BetRivers partnered with the tribe to offer online gambling in Michigan, too.

The tribe promises to bring more than 3,000 jobs into the area, half of which will be permanent. The site is just off Interstate 96 to the east, South Harvey Street to the west, and East Ellis Road to the south.

There’s no timeline for when the casino might see its final approval or when it will break ground in Muskegon County. But right now, things are looking great for the tribe. If the rest of the process goes as well, MI residents near Fruitport Township will have a new option for gambling.

Photo by US Department of the Interior, LRBOI
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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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