Gun Lake Breathes Easier

A looming court decision that could have closed the Gun Lake casino in Michigan was negated last week as President Barack Obama signed a bill that ends the litigation and any future claim against the tribe’s trust land.

On September 26, President Barack Obama signed the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, which effectively ends years of litigation involving the Gun Lake Tribe’s casino in Wayland Township, Michigan. Former township trustee David Patchak first challenged the U.S. Department of Interior’s authority to take land into trust for the Gun Lake Tribe in 2008 after previous, unsuccessful lawsuits opposing the construction of the casino. The legislation also bars any future claims against the government’s move to take into trust the 147-acre property on which the casino is located.

“This is a historic day for the tribe and Indian Country. This new law not only reaffirms the trust status of our land, but also permanently ends the frivolous legal challenges that our tribe and the local community have faced for more than ten years. We are pleased that Congress and the President of the United States have vindicated our position,” said D.K. Sprague, chairman of the Gun Lake Tribe, legally known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatami Indians.

“This legislation addresses a technical issue created by a recent court decision, and I was pleased to support the community in passing this bill to promote economic development in the region,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, who introduced Senate Bill No. 1603 last October. Her bill  remained unchanged all the way to the president’s desk.

Patchak had claimed the casino traffic would lower his property value and bring pollution and crime, and divert the rural area’s municipal resources. He has been represented by numerous lawyers and firms in the past six years, most recently by the Washington, D.C. firm of  Edwards Kirby. Despite the special legislation, Patchak’s attorney Sharon Eubanks said, “The litigation is still ongoing. We will address our legal and factual arguments to the court.”

Patchak’s original lawsuit was dismissed at the district court level in August 2009 on the grounds that Patchak did not have legal standing to sue. The case was reinstated by a federal appellate court, followed by a review by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012, which allowed the case to move forward in federal court. Patchak’s attorney Eubanks told a federal court judge at a September 4 status conferred, “A monetary settlement is exactly what he’s looking for.”

Gun Lake Tribe spokesperson James Nye said the new special legislation “just maintains the status quo. It’s business as usual at the casino,” which Nye said employs more than 800 people. The casino generated about $514 million in gaming receipts from opening in February 2011 to March 2014, with $52 million going to state and local governments. Owned by tribe, the casino is operated by an affiliate of Station Casinos of Las Vegas and private investors in Michigan.