In Michigan, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has approved the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians planned Muskegon County casino after the federally recognized tribe submitted an application to the agency within the Department of the Interior six years ago to take 60 acres at the site of the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack into trust.

The $180 million Lakeshore Casino and Resort project proposed for a former 5/8 mile horse racing track located in Fruitport Township received a favorable decision and a two-part determination from the federal agency in December, with the Manistee and Mason counties-based tribe now seeking approval for a new gaming compact from the Whitmer administration before construction starts, according to MiBiz.

Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli stated in a Thursday news release, as cited by the source

“This ruling clears the way for our Tribe to work with the Governor to create 3,000 new jobs and a permanent, year-round entertainment venue in Muskegon County.” On behalf of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the tribe’s executive officer thanked the community of Muskegon as well as other West Michigan communities for their more than 12 years of support, stating that “we look forward to putting shovels in the ground.”

Expected benefits:

The track formerly known as Great Lakes Downs was acquired by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in the summer of 2008 with the primary goal to build a Class III casino. According to the news agency, tribal officials have promised a total of 3,000 jobs, including half for construction and ancillary jobs and the other half for high-paying, full-time jobs, as part of the casino resort project.

Upon completion, the venue is reportedly expected to see 1.8 million visitors annually.

According to Fox 17, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is bankrolling construction of the casino, with no taxpayer dollars. It is, however, expected to generate $15 million in tax revenue for the State of Michigan and millions for local government.

Located approximately 90 miles south of the tribe’s established casino north of Manistee, the off-reservation casino will reportedly include a 220-key hotel, along with 69,000 sq ft of gaming space with 1,700 slot machines and 35 table games.

MiBiz reports that Romanelli previously told the news agency that the remaining process, including state approval of a new gaming compact, could take an additional three years.

Community support:

Meanwhile, Fruitport Community Schools Superintendent Bob Syzmoniak said the Muskegon County township has been waiting for over 10 years for the project to be approved. He said, “A casino would bring jobs, new residents and economic development to Muskegon. The school district is 100% behind the tribe and this project, according to Fox 17.

However, the proposed tribal casino hit a bit of a road bump when on Feb. 25, the Michigan House of Representatives approved a resolution, which was introduced by state Rep. Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, opposing the “unchecked proliferation of off-reservation gaming” that isn’t within gaming compacts approved by the tribes, the State of Michigan, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Because it is “off reservation,” the proposed tribal casino will require state and federal approval. And because it would be the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians’ second casino, the Michigan State Gaming Compact would also need to be amended, according to an MLive report last month.

The source further reports that State Rep. Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon, believes the resolution, which passed with a voice vote, was “directly pointed toward the proposed casino project” in Muskegon County.

Tribal opposition:

It wouldn’t be the first time the casino proposal has drawn opposition, as the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which owns and operates the Saganing Eagles Landing Casino and Soaring Eagle Casino Resort in Standish and Mount Pleasant respectively, along with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and Gun Lake tribes, which own casinos in Battle Creek and Wayland Township, are all against the casino being built. All of the casinos are within a two-hour drive of Fruitport Township.

Positive outlook:

Tribal officials, however, say the site in Muskegon County is ancestral land and is home to a majority of the tribe’s population, and describes the February resolution as non-binding and continues to be optimistic regarding compact negotiations, according to MiBiz citing a March 5 Tribal Business News report, in which, Tribal spokesman Tom Shields reportedly told the news agency…

“The tribe is moving forward. We have great optimism that the governor will take a look at the economic benefits, the fact that it’s 3,000 jobs for the Muskegon area, and make the right decision.”