Michigan Gov. to Decide on Little River Band Casino Project in Muskegon

Posted on: June 14, 2022, 07:47h. 

Last updated on: June 14, 2022, 03:29h.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) must decide by Thursday on whether to authorize an off-reservation casino project proposed by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.

Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, above, wanted to wait to see whether the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians gained federal recognition before deciding on the Little River Band’s casino. (Image: LA Times)

The deadline comes after the federal government denied an application from the Governor’s Office for an extension on the decision, MLive reports.

The tribe has sought to build a casino on the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack near Fruitport, Muskegon County, for the past 12 years. The planned $180 million development would include a 149,000-square-foot casino and 220-room hotel.

But because this would be an off-reservation casino, it requires the approval of the federal government and the state. The Department of Interior rubber-stamped the plan in December 2020, which means it is now up to Whitmer to decide whether the project will sink or swim.

Why the Hold Up?

Whitmer sought the extension because she would prefer to wait to see whether another tribe, the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians, is successful in becoming a federally recognized tribe.

Federal recognition would mean the Grand River Band would be entitled to build its casino close to the Little River Band’s planned project.

The Grand River Band opposes the Little River casino and claims ancestral ties to the land around Fruitport.   

The Grand River Band’s application for federal recognition has been delayed by the pandemic. But a decision is expected to be made by the Interior Department in October. Whitmer’s office has asked the department to expedite the decision.

The Little River Band has been federally recognized since 1994.

DOI ‘Disappointing’

Whitmer’s press secretary, Bobby Leddy, said in a statement to MLive that the Governor’s Office needed all the information needed to make a decision “of this magnitude.”

“The Department of the Interior’s failure to provide necessary information by either extending the deadline for a decision on the Little River Band’s proposal or issuing a proposed finding in response to the Grand River Bands’ acknowledgement petition is disappointing. We continue to review next steps ahead of Thursday’s deadline,” he added.

If approved, the Little River Band’s casino is expected to draw more than 1.8 million visitors annually while attracting large conventions to the Muskegon area. It will generate an expected $15 million for the state, plus millions more for local governments, and an estimated $1.5 million a year for local charities, according to the tribe.

It has broad support from the local community.