Resolution Draft Targets Michigan AG Amid Tribal Casino Closures

Posted on May 14, 2020

Hundreds of Michigan residents marched the state capitol once again this week to protest actions by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, one state lawmaker is rebuking her administration’s efforts to pressure tribal casinos to stay closed.

Republican Rep. Beau LaFave drafted a resolution on Wednesday to reaffirm the sovereignty of tribal nations. It also rebuffs Attorney General Dana Nessel for a “veiled-threat” against a Native American tribe seeking to open its casino within LaFave’s Upper Peninsula district.

According to one attendee who planned cooperation going forward, the reopening of tribal casinos was discussed on a conference call this week between tribal leaders and the governor.

LaFave calls Nessel an ‘agitator,’ Whitmer an ‘emperor’

In a tweet announcing the resolution draft, LaFave took aim at the state’s Democratic leaders.

“Not content with watching the emperor destroy just Michigan’s economy, Agitator General Dana Nessel takes aim at Sovereign Tribes,” LaFave tweeted Wednesday evening.

The resolution was moved to the Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee for consideration.

Nessel’s office reportedly sent a letter to the Hannahville Indian Community last week as a plea to keep Island Resort and Casino in Harris closed.

Though the sovereign tribe can legally reopen the casino, the letter said it would encourage employees and customers to break the law.

It read: “As is true in other areas of the State, the failure to comply with the executive orders exposes individuals to potential civil and criminal penalties.”

The tribe had scheduled to reopen the casino on May 6 but postponed until this Saturday, citing “unforeseen circumstances” as a reason, not the letter.

Soaring Eagle official says call ‘went well’

If Saturday goes as planned, Island Resort and Casino would be the first of the state’s 23 tribal casinos to reopen.

After Nessel’s letter, the governor’s office set up a conference call with tribal leaders this week to discuss reopening.

Frank Cloutier, a spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, wrote in an email to PlayMichigan that the meeting took place this week and was positive.

“The call with the governor went well and we will be working together,” Cloutier wrote Wednesday, adding plans to open Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, in Mount Pleasant, and Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel, in Standish, will be released at a later date.

No other reopenings are planned statewide this weekend. The next scheduled reopenings are the five Kewadin Casinos in the U.P., currently set for a June 1 reopening.

The three commercial casinos in Detroit are subject to Whitmer’s order, which expires May 28. Even so, it might be months before Greektown Casino-Hotel, MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino are at full capacity.

Tribal casinos start to open across the country

At the time of the initial Island Resort and Casino announcement of reopening, only a couple of tribal casinos were reopened.

Nationwide, 26 casinos were open Thursday, according to the American Gaming Association, all of them west of the Mississippi River.

Ernie Stevens, chairman and national spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Association, said Wednesday in a video interview for the ICE North America Digital conference that tribal casinos are collectively the nation’s 11th-largest employer.

“Really, it’s just about jobs,” Stevens said. “We have to create a new normal; we have to do a good job with that, we have to work together on that.

“I think, for the most part, we’re getting close. I think the tribes are working on creating an atmosphere where they can go forward.

“Everybody wants to be able to reopen, but Indian country is first about safety and about family and about community. We will not do it at the expense of the health of the people around us. The health and safety of our employees and our customers. That has to be No. 1.”

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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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