The plans for building a new $180 million casino near Muskegon are still on board. However, the governor hasn’t approved it yet, and the approval isn’t expected to come for the next six months.

The major issue – federal recognition:

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians proposed the building of the new casino, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer dismissed the proposal last year, with a possibility to reconsider it later. The tribe wanted to build the casino on their homeland property, but the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs denied recognition of the tribe.

The tribe appealed, and the 180-day comment period will be finished in August when the final decision will be made. 

The casino is supposed to be built at the 31/I-96 interchange in Fruitport Township, Muskegon County, which is the land that doesn’t belong to the Little River Band reservation, which means that state and federal approvals are required. The federal government gave the approval in 2020, but the state’s still missing. 

Larry Romanelli, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema, isn’t optimistic about reversing the Governor’s decision. The tribe even tried to find out if the Governor would approve the casino if the tribe didn’t get recognized, but nobody from the office answered calls.

The reason that lies behind the issues with recognition is one of the seven criteria that were supposed to be fulfilled. The members of the tribe should belong to a “distinct community that has existed as a community through time,” the Little River Band has been formed pretty recently, and it consists of various independent groups that merged into one tribe.

However, the tribe hired professional historians to prove that they existed for a long time. 

The tribe’s Chair, Ron Yob, said: “The U.S. Department of Interior has continuously reached out to support our efforts, and we have been compiling documentation that shows our long history as a distinct political community. We remain confident we will ultimately achieve the long overdue federal recognition for our tribal members and be able to provide long-awaited justice to our members.”

There’s still hope:

The state Senator Jon Bumstead, R-Muskegon, and Representative Will Snyder, D-Muskegon, want the Governor to finally approve the casino since the chances that the tribe will get recognized are pretty low. 

The tribe, on the other hand, still hopes that the casino and hotel with 220 rooms will be built. They waited for 14 years for the approval, spending more than $30 million on the proposed casino, and don’t want to give up now, especially because the casino will be beneficial for the whole community. Not only will the casino provide 3000 people with necessary jobs, but the state will get a revenue of about $10 million annually.

However, Michigan casinos and other tribes are against building this casino since it’s on off-reservation land, which can lead to “an influx in casino gambling operations,” as the Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners says.