As Muskegon County Casino Project Deadline Looms, Its Supporters Rally

Written By Derek Helling on November 10, 2021

Time is running out for state approval on a potential Muskegon County tribal casino, and those who support the project aren’t staying quiet about it. In fact, most of them recently gathered for a rally aimed at getting their message out.

They’ll soon discover how effective their messaging has been. The deadline for the state of Michigan to act is just weeks off. And in this case, a lack of action is the same as a denial of what the supporters need to move the project forward.

Muskegon County tribal casino supporters rally

Earlier this week, representatives of several groups connected to the project met at the Muskegon Museum of Art. Among them were the tribal group that owns the land the proposed casino would occupy, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. Other entities at the rally included:

  • Fruitport Township
  • MI Regional Council of Carpenters
  • Muskegon Co. Commission
  • Muskegon Chamber of Commerce
  • West Michigan Building Trades

Also on hand for the rally were MI Sen. Jon Bumstead, MI Rep. Terry Sabo, and Muskegon Heights Mayor Walter Watt. Larry Romanelli, Tribal Omega of the LRBOI, spoke on the behalf of his people.

“With the governor’s sign-off, we can create 3,000 jobs and the initial work can begin in months,” Romanelli stated. “We are fortunate to have resounding support from community leaders, businesses, unions, and individuals throughout the county. They know this region needs the jobs, the revenues, and the benefits a Muskegon casino would bring.”

Others at the mic also voiced support. They cited job creation, economic development and tourism value as their reasons for hoping the project comes together. At this juncture, the casino needs every voice of support it can get. Time is running out.

What needs to happen quickly for the casino to move forward

Despite the tribe’s insistence it is ready to break ground on the 86-acre plot it owns, it cannot yet do so legally unless it alters its plans to leave casino gaming out of the construction. Its current compact with both the federal and the state governments only allows the LRBOI to operate their existing casino near Manistee.

That means the LRBOI needs an amendment to the compact in order to also offer gambling near Fruitport. The US Deptartment of the Interior‘s Bureau of Indian Affairs approved new compact terms last December.

However, MI Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has yet to finalize the deal. She has until Dec. 16 to either give her consent or petition the bureau for a six-month extension. All she has to do to put the kibosh on the plans is simply not act.

Why might Whitmer simply let the deadline pass with no action when so many of the local interests support the project? She’s the governor of the entire state, not just Muskegon Co.

Parties elsewhere would prefer to see Fruitport remain without a casino.

As an example of such objections, three competing tribal groups that have casinos within Michigan’s borders asked the Bureau to review its approval of the compact earlier this year. Opposition has also come from leaders in Detroit, Wayne County and the MI legislature.

Either way, this situation will see a resolution in just more than a month. As Dec. 16 draws nearer without any word out of Whitmer’s office, supporters of the project might organize more events to plead their case.

Photo by Dreamstime
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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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