Posted on: March 9, 2022, 01:52h.
Last updated on: March 9, 2022, 02:40h.
Supporters of a Michigan casino proposed by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians are asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer not to leave them hanging.
The project, earmarked for the former Great Lake’s Downs Race Track near Fruitport, Muskegon County, is one governor’s signature away from becoming a reality. It was approved by the federal government in December 2020 and is “shovel ready.”
But the governor is proving tough to read. A deadline for Whitmer to make a decision passed in December after she applied for a one-time, six-month extension. The new deadline is June 16 this year.
Meanwhile, Whitmer has not uttered a word about the project, offering no indication as to whether she supports or opposes it.
State Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) this week beseeched the governor to greenlight the casino, or at least put everyone out of their misery.
“The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ casino is a major job-creating project that will attract visitors to the region,” Bumstead said.
Estimates indicate the project will create 1,500 construction jobs and 1,500 high-paying full-time jobs … There’s nothing holding the governor back from saying yes,” said Bumstead in a statement.
The tribe has been chasing the project for 12 years, and spent ten years undertaking extensive environmental analysis before the federal government agreed to take the land into trust.
Normally, a governor’s approval is not required for a tribe to organize gaming on trust land after federal approval. But this case is slightly different.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) generally prohibits gaming on lands acquired by tribes after October 7, 1988, the date of the legislation’s enactment. But there are several exceptions, such as when lands are restored for a newly recognized tribe, or they are recovered as part of a land claims settlement.
Another is known as the “two-part determination,” which has been applied in this case. This is where the federal government determines that a casino on trust lands would be in the best interests of the tribe and that it would not be detrimental to the surrounding community.
The project has overwhelming backing from the local community. But the two-part determination is the only instance where a state governor has the power to call the whole thing off.
The proposed $180 million casino is expected to draw more than 1.8 million visitors per year, while attracting large conventions to the Muskegon area. It will generate an expected $15 million for the state, plus millions more to local governments, and an estimated $1.5 million a year to local charities.
The Little River Band is itching to break ground, but its plans remain in limbo for now.