Judge Rules For Tribe, Against Michigan

Michigan recently lost its lawsuit against the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians which wants to build a $245 million off-reservation casino in downtown Lansing. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker ruled the tribe did nothing wrong by applying to have the Interior Department take the land into trust.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker recently threw out Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s lawsuit seeking to block the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ from having the U.S. Department of Interior take into federal trust land it owns in downtown Lansing, in order to build a 5 million Kewadin Lansing Casino off-reservation casino next to the convention center. Jonker ruled the tribe did nothing wrong by requesting the land be placed into trust. The tribe also wants to build a casino in Huron Township in Wayne County near Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The tribe purchased both sites under the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act typically prohibits gaming on land acquired after 1988, but IGRA contains an exception for land claim settlements.

Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment said, “The ruling is a clear signal that the Sault Tribe is within our rights to pursue the casinos, which will create thousands of good jobs for mid-Michigan and southeast Michigan, and millions of dollars in new revenues for the two regions and the entire state.”

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero added, “Today’s ruling reaffirms that right and represents another significant step along the path to success, which will bring thousands of good-paying jobs to Lansing.”

However, Sara Wurfel, spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder, said his office and the attorney general are discussing possible next moves. “We continue to believe that the tribe’s unprecedented efforts to open a casino located hundreds of miles from its reservation is a violation of our mutual Tribal-State Gaming Compact, establishes a dangerous precedent and poses serious consequences for the state and other Indian tribes within Michigan.”

The tribe believes the Bureau of Indian Affairs is required by law to take the land in trust. But even if it gains BIA approval, the tribe expects more litigation by the state and other Michigan Indian tribes who point to a provision in the Class III gaming compact requiring all tribes in the state to agree to any off-reservation casinos.