Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ proposed Muskegon County casino, a project 12 years in the making, has an undecided fate. Facing a December 16 deadline, Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked and received a six-month extension to either approve or deny a $180 million casino planned for Fruitport Township. The six-month extension is the final delay before she needs to make a final decision by June 16, 2022.
Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli said on Thursday night that the delayed decision is “not completely unexpected” as the governor is also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve been at it for 12 years and another six months seems like a long time. But I understand the reasoning”.
The project involves a 149,000-square-foot casino and 220-room hotel on 60 acres at the former Great Lakes Downs horse racetrack site. Being an off-reservation casino, located 92 miles away from eligible tribal lands in Manistee County, it requires federal and state approval to move forward.
While broad local support buoyed the planned casino for the past 12 years, it has received pushback from other Michigan casinos that oppose off-reservation gaming. The Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, where three state-licensed casinos operate, issued resolutions in May to disagree with off-reservation gaming efforts, expressing concerns of an off-reservation casino leading to “an influx in casino gambling operations”.
The U.S. Department of Interior gave its approval on December 16, 2020, saying the casino would be “in the best interest of the tribe” and would not be detrimental to the community. This gave Whitmer one year to concur, and the project is still under review by the administration.
Supporters rallied last month at the Muskegon Art Museum urging Whitmer to approve the project, as it is expected to bring jobs - 3,000: half in construction and half in full-time positions -, investment and tax revenue to the county. The Little River band expects to draw an estimated 2 million visitors to the region each year.
Federal officials estimate the casino would generate $184 million in its first year, increasing to $206 million by year five. Annual taxes would be roughly $15 million for the state and $3 million for six local governments. Another $53 million would support the Little River Band, providing funds for tribal government programs and services.