Michigan Governor Rejects Off-Reservation Tribal Casino Proposal

  • Governor Whitmer unsuccessfully requested an extension to the deadline to make a decision
  • She has concerns a tribe that is seeking federal recognition might open a casino in the same area
  • Whitmer will reconsider the proposal after a decision is made on the other tribe’s federal status
  • The casino would have created about 1,500 jobs and generated $15m in annual tax revenue
Signing "rejected" document
Michigan’s governor has rejected a proposed $180m off-reservation casino from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

No deadline extension

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has rejected a proposed $180m off-reservation casino from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. The tribe has been trying to get the western Michigan project over the line for more than a decade, but Governor Whitmer officially rejected the plan on Wednesday.

the US Department of Interior denied the request

She had asked last month to extend the June 16 deadline to decide on the project, but the US Department of Interior denied the request. Whitmer wanted to know if the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians were going to be getting federal acknowledgment or to get a deadline extension. The Department of Interior had already granted Whitmer a 180-day extension.

The Grand River Bands is a neighboring tribe, one of a number of tribes to come out against the casino proposal. Whitmer was concerned that if the neighboring tribe received federal recognition that it might want to open its own gaming facility in the same area as the proposed Little River casino.

Disappointment about the decision

In a letter to US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Whitmer said that she had been put in an “impossible position” by the department and that she did not have access to sufficient “information critical to my decision.” Whitmer did leave the door slightly open by saying that she would be open to revisiting the casino project proposal once there is a decision made on the Grand Rivers Bands federal acknowledgment petition.

The current deadline for the Department of Interior to rule on the Grand Rivers Bands’ federal acknowledgment petition is October 12, 2022.

Reacting to the governor’s decision was Little River Band leader Larry Romanelli. Talking to local media, he said that the tribe is extremely devastated and that it had met all of the criteria necessary in order to get approval. Senator Jon Bumstead also reacted strongly to the news, saying “I am extremely disappointed, angered, and let down by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to kill 3,000 good-paying jobs.”

A long time in the works

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians had been planning to have a casino on an 87-acre site close to Muskegon. The tribe purchased the land in 2008. As the site was not tribal land, the casino project required both federal and state approval in order to proceed. The Interior Department approved the proposal in December 2020.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians opened its Little River Casino Resort in 1999 on tribal land. It offers a wide range of table games and slot machines.

The new casino would have created an estimated 1,500 permanent jobs and would have attracted about 1.8 million annual visitors. The annual tax revenue would have been an estimated $15m. In the history of Indian gaming in Michigan, a governor has given the go-ahead to an off-reservation casino only once.

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