After late last month announcing plans to reopen its Island Resort and Casino on May 6, Upper Michigan’s Hannahville Indian Community has pushed back the date to May 16.
The decision came after the federally recognized Potawatomi tribe’s Chairperson Kenneth Meshigaud received correspondence dated May 5 from Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and the Menominee County Prosecutor’s Office.
Received by email, the letter reportedly stated that while the tribe is within its rights to reopen, some customers and employees could be “subject to civil and criminal penalties” of as much as $1,000 per violation or per day under the executive order signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on March 16 temporarily closing places of public accommodation.
Located in Menominee County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Island Resort and Casino voluntarily shut down on March 21 due to safety concerns for its workers and customers related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Owned and operated by one of twelve federally-acknowledged Indian tribes that have sovereignty status in Michigan, the resort casino is not subject to state laws. Subsequently, the gubernatorial order that will keep the state’s trio of Detroit-based commercial casinos closed until at least May 28 is not applicable to the tribe.
Executive order extension:
On May 7, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to extend the state’s stay-at-home order through May 28, 2020.
According to the latest data (May 12, 2020) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Great Lakes state ranks fourth behind New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts in COVID-19 related deaths at 2,851.
Native News Online reports that the tribe had attempted to contact the governor’s office in the last week of April in order to coordinate a date for the resort casino to reopen. And citing its sovereign status decided to open, saying that it would put in place additional safety precautions, including temperature checks of all customers prior to allowing casino access, as well as heightened sanitation measures.
In a telephone interview with the news agency, Meshigaud reportedly said…
“We got a letter by email on May 5 that told us about the measures the governor had taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan, such as declaring the state of emergency, stay-at-home orders and explanation of the governor’s authority. The letter told us we should limit our operations, otherwise our enrolled members living off reservation and customers could be cited and subject to civil and criminal penalties.”
It was after receiving the letter that the decision to keep the casino closed was made, said Meshigaud.
The tribal chairman reportedly said that he did not want to put “tribal members or non-tribal members in jeopardy of being cited” and wanted to “consult” with the tribal council.
After on May 7th reaching out to both the office of Gov. Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel for comment, the latter’s press secretary, Ryan Jarvi, reportedly shared a copy of the letter in addition to releasing the following statement to the online American Indian publication…
“Representatives from State offices have been in ongoing discussions with tribal leaders, and a conference call between those leaders and Gov. Whitmer, MDHHS Chief Medical Executive Khaldun and other representatives from State offices is scheduled for early next week to continue that conversation. The Attorney General’s office will also participate in the call. We respect the tribes’ sovereignty and seek to continue to work with them as partners in a concerted effort to protect human life from the threat posed by COVID-19.”
As of Tuesday, May 12, the Island Resort and Casino’s website (pdf) says, “Due to unforeseen circumstances out opening date has been moved to May 16.” The resort casino’s after-hours automated phone service also states that the casino will reopen on Saturday, May 16.
In light of Gov. Whitmer’s recent extension of the executive order, Meshigaud reportedly said that the Hannahville Indian Community tribal council would meet that Friday morning (May 8) to discuss the next steps. However, no new information has been presented.
Island Resort & Casino features over 320 hotel guest rooms, a variety of dining options, a full-service spa with an indoor salt-water pool and fitness center, a 1,315 seat theatre-style showroom, two 18-hole championship golf courses and 42-site RV park. Gaming includes over 1,200 slots, live and electronic bingo, Vegas-style table games, and a dedicated poker room offering tournaments and cash games.
In January 2020, the Hannahville Indian Community Tribal Council approved a $30 million expansion, after having invested some $8 million on an expansion and renovation project that included a new full-service spa and a second golf course, among other updates, that began in 2015.