Who Wins And Who Loses Following Gov. Whitmer’s Rejection Of Proposed Little River Casino?

Written By Drew Ellis on June 20, 2022

The long battle for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians to get a second casino hit a major point Wednesday in its 14-year timeline.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially declined the proposal, which had the attention of many interested parties.

It’s been a legal pursuit by Little River for more than a decade, but other legal battles surrounding it have been going on even longer.

With Wednesday starting to provide some clarity on the overall situation, who came out on the winning end? Who came out on the losing end?

Losers – Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

This one is pretty easy.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has been working toward an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township since 2008.

All the details were in order. It was to be an $180 million project for a 65,000-square foot casino and 220-room hotel.

For the Muskegon area, the project would be creating 3,000 new jobs, including 1,500 permanent jobs.

It was a big blow for all involved with the project.

Now, the tribe continues to play the waiting game. Whitmer indicated in her letter of rejection that she would welcome the opportunity to revisit the consideration after the Department of Interior makes its decision on the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians.

Winners – Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians

This decision opens the door for the Grand River Bands to now hold claim to the lands should they be federally recognized as a tribe.

Since 1994, Grand River Bands has been working toward that effort. The federal government has an Oct. 12 deadline to officially grant the group recognition. Should that happen, Whitmer felt that Grand River Bands would have the say in the lands near the proposed casino.

She didn’t want to grant Little River the ability to build a casino on lands that could belong to another tribe months later.

Should Grand River be granted recognition, it could also pursue building a casino on its tribal grounds.

Winners – Tribes that opposed Little River

While there’s been a lot of talk about the support Little River had for its project, it also had a lot of pushback.

The three tribes pushing back the most were:

  • Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Casino)
  • Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (FireKeepers Casino)
  • Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (Soaring Eagle)

All three felt the new proposed casino would impact their operations due to close locations from their respective casinos. Each is roughly a 2-hour drive from Fruitport Township.

The three Detroit casinos also had representation come out against the new casino proposal.

Losers – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

There probably wasn’t a way for Whitmer to win in this situation.

She’s not wrong that she was put in a tough position with the looming federal decision on Grand River Bands.

But, the reality is that this proposed casino did have bipartisan support through different presidencies and in the local government.

Had Whitmer given the okay for the project, she would have received a lot of criticism from the other tribes against the project, as well as Detroit and Wayne County reps.

By turning it down, she certainly gained a lot of heat from the Muskegon area, which was very much in support of the casino.

Winners – Gov. Whitmer’s GOP opponents

Whitmer is in an election year, which doesn’t make this situation much better for her. However, it does give her opponents some ammunition.

With an Aug. 2 primary coming up, the five Republican candidates for the ballot likely can use this decision in their favor.

The five are:

  • Tudor Dixon
  • Ryan Kelly
  • Ralph Rebandt
  • Kevin Rinke
  • Garrett Soldano

James Craig, a former Detroit police chief, and Perry Johnson, a businessman were also in the mix and considered potential front-runners. However, they were dropped from the ballot because of forged signatures on their nominating petitions. Craig is pushing to be a write-in candidate.

Dixon, herself, is a Muskegon area resident. She’s earned praise from the DeVos family as well as former president Donald Trump.

Kelly is a top contender, but he recently made national headlines for being charged with four misdemeanors in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

We’ve already seen a few Republican state senators call Whitmer’s decision “shameful.” It is likely to be a focal point in the months ahead for whomever wins the primary race.

Photo by Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis has lived in Michigan his whole life, and has been writing professionally for the last 21 years. Ellis has covered anything from youth baseball in mid-Michigan, a top-25 college football program, and pro sports in the Detroit area. Always keeping busy, Ellis also has over 10 years of experience in covering sports betting, handling all major sports.

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