Dec. 16 deadline

Michigan tribe and local leaders rally to urge Gov. to approve Muskegon casino project

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli joined with community leaders at the Muskegon Museum of Art on Friday.
United States
Reading time 1:58 min
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, which already have US federal approval for the $180M project, and state lawmakers rallied on Friday to urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to greenlight the proposal, the final step before a December 16 deadline. Three tribes that operate casinos near Fruitport Township oppose the project. The 149,000-square-foot casino and 220-room hotel would bring $15M in tax dollars to the state and $3M in local taxes.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians rallied support Friday for its proposed Muskegon County casino in Michigan.

Tribal leaders, state legislators, local officials, unions and community members gathered at the Muskegon Art Museum to urge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to approve the $180 million project, as reported by MLive. Nearly 100 people, both tribal and community members, wore pins that said “Governor Whitmer, support our Muskegon casino” and held signs with “Governor Whitmer, Muskegon needs 3,000 jobs.”

The Little River Band is facing a December 16 deadline for the governor to sign off on the casino. Since 2008, the tribe has been working towards constructing a 149,000-square-foot casino and 220-room hotel at the former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack site in Fruitport Township.

Over a dozen local leaders spoke in support of the project, including state Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, state Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon, Muskegon County Commissioner Bob Scolnik and Muskegon Heights Mayor Walter Watt.

Little River Band tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli said: “Every day that this doesn’t happen, it just puts us in a less favorable condition.”

Whitmer’s approval is the final step in a complicated two-part determination process that requires federal and state approval to open an off-reservation casino. The tribe said in May it had received the necessary federal approvals and that it was awaiting state’s approval. The Little River Band’s eligible tribal land is based in Manistee County, but the tribe says it’s close to its original Muskegon reservation.

The casino is expected to bring $15 million in tax dollars to the state and $3 million in local taxes, according to the tribe, and 3,000 jobs — half in construction and half to operate the casino. “This is going to have a lasting effect on our community for 100 years, putting a lot of people to work,” Sabo said.

Despite the broad local support, three tribes that operate casinos near Fruitport Township oppose the project. The Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners also issued resolutions in May disagreeing with the proposed off-reservation casino.

A statement from Gun Lake Tribe Chairman Bob Peters said the proposed casino is in “clear violation” of the Little River Band’s gaming compact with the state. 

A 12-month clock started ticking for Whitmer when the U.S. Department of Interior granted its approval of the project on Dec. 16, 2020. She can also seek a six-month extension from the federal government ahead of the deadline.

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