The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has approved a ballot proposal to spend up to $40 million on new casino development projects at the Ojibwa Casino in Marquette and the Baraga location.

The proposal was approved on August 13, 2016, and it allocates the estimated cost of the projects at $6.5 million and $33.5 million for the Upper Michigan tribe’s Baraga and Marquette casinos respectively. Last year, two casino referendums for construction and renovation projects were voted on and approved by the KBIC. The proposals totaled $40 million as well, but with the bulk of the funds to go to the Baraga facility.

Since that time, revisions have been made to the projects based upon, but not limited to, Governor Rick Snyder’s rejection of the tribe’s request to relocate its current casino in Marquette (Chocolay Township) to more than 50 acres of land once home to the Marquette County Airport. In 1999, the KBIC purchased the land for $1.4 million for that purpose and the relocation was approved by the Department of the Interior (DOI) in late 2011, however, the tribe’s proposal was shot down by Governor Snyder in June 2013. Governor Snyder’s rejection was the second such decision by his office, in what has been a 15-year effort to relocate the casino to a larger, more visible and centralized property after having received its initial determination from the DOI. The pursuit of the casino by the tribe is under provisions of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Under federal law, the two-part determination requirement, which includes the land being taken into trust by the DOI, includes approval from the Governor, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in order to proceed. Since the IGRA’s inception in 1988, there have only been four tribes to successfully open casinos after completing both of the steps required by the lengthy and complex two-part determination process.

The KBIC says that the $33.5 million revision to its Marquette casino “would create a resort, an “Entertainment Mecca”, that will include a 100 room branded hotel, 1,200 seat entertainment venue, a full service restaurant as well as a grill, a 400 seat conference center, and gaming space to accommodate up to 600 slot machines,” according to the Michigan Gaming report. Currently, the dated Marquette gaming facility does not include a hotel.

While the Baraga project’s $6.5 million revision includes “the construction of a new gaming facility added onto the existing facility. Renovations of current spaces would provide additional gaming areas for slots and table games and non-public space for staff and public access to the existing hotel, restaurant, and Pressbox Lanes and Lounge. The face of the facility will be redone to provide a cohesive appearance as well,” according to the report.

According to management at the Ojibwa Casino Marquette, the 13,500 square foot gaming space currently has 290 gaming machines and six table games. The 17,000 square feet of gaming at the Ojibwa Casino Baraga has approximately 340 slots and eight tables, depending on demand.

The tribe will finance both projects using trust funds as well as cash flow from the casinos. According to the report, construction will begin as soon as possible for both projects, with 2017 or early 2018 being the targeted timeframe for completion.

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