The state of Michigan and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians are embroiled in an off-reservation gaming dispute which according to attorney for the tribe, John Wernet, should be decided soon.

Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a lawsuit in attempts to prevent the tribe from building a $245 million Kewadin casino in Lansing, and last month the arguments were heard by a federal court judge. Wernet expressed optimism when he told the Lansing State Journal, “We remain confident of our underlying legal theory and right of the tribe to pursue the project.”

Funds appropriated by Congress for the purpose of benefiting certain Michigan tribes were used by the tribe to purchase the land from the City of Lansing for the purpose of building a class III gaming facility. Under the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act (MILCSA) states that any land purchased with these funds must be held in trust by the government, which is the tribe’s argument.

Originally, it was the courts contention that a trust submission under MILCSA would be in violation of the compact between the tribe and the state. That compact requires there be a revenue-sharing agreement with other tribes in order for land to be taken into trust for gaming purposes under the Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

In June 2014 the application for the land to be taken into trust was submitted by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and while a time frame is unknown, a reliable source believes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will be forthcoming with a decision. Vigo Bereno, Lansing’s mayor, was confident in a text message to the Journal, “I’m getting very encouraging signs from Washington.”

However, the process of mandatory acquisitions is a slow one, as evident in the case of the Tohono O’odham Nation, which took over a year for the BIA to reach a decision. In general the 2008 revision of Section 20 of the IGRA makes it more difficult for tribes to participate in Indian gaming, but it provides exceptions to the law’s general prohibition of gaming on tribal lands acquired after 1988, and that is to those with land claim settlements.

Used rarely, the Section 20 exception was used by the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. They are the first and only tribe to have done it, but later this year when the West Valley Resort opens, the Tohono O’odham Nation would be the second, and pending the outcome of the litigation, the Sault Tribe could become the third.

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