Little River Band Presents Application

The Little River Band is a step closer to a $180 million off-reservation casino (rendering l.) in Muskegon County, Michigan. Tribal officials recently presented a land-to-trust application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Minneapolis regional office to develop a 60-acre tract the tribe owns at the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians recently filed a 5-inches-thick application at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ regional office in Minneapolis to have a 60-acre tract at the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack taken into trust for a proposed 0 million off-reservation casino and retail development in Fruitport Township, Michigan. Tribal officials said the project would create more than 1,200 new jobs in Muskegon County.

Little River Band Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli said, “For the past seven years, we have worked with the Muskegon region to bring viable economic development to both of our communities. This project would jumpstart the local economy and help provide support for expanded tribal government services for our tribal members.”

The tribe currently operates Manistee’s Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, which it opened in 1999. Since then, more than 20 other Michigan tribes have opened or expanded their gaming operations which has caused the Little River Band’s income to drop, tribal leaders said.

Romanelli said the application will be reviewed by the Department of the Interior and if it meets all the requirements, the department will publish a notice of intent to take the land into trust. Romanelli said he hopes that will occur this spring. A public hearing and environmental impact studies would follow. “We’re moving as fast as we can. The community support has been overwhelmingly positive,” Romanelli said.

The Great Lakes Downs racetrack in Fruitport opened in 1999 and closed in 2007. The tribe bought the property in 2008. The proposed casino project would include 69,000 square feet of gaming space, 1,700 slot machines, 35 table games, a 220-room hotel, conference and meeting rooms and dining and entertainment areas.

The tribe, Fruitport Township and Muskegon County all have signed an agreement that the tribe would place 2 percent of all electronic gaming proceeds into a “Seventh Generation fund” that could be used for a variety of civic projects.

At first Governor Rick Snyder was reluctant to support the project, but in October 2013 he agreed to allow the proposal to be reviewed by the BIA. If the land is taken into trust, Snyder and the Michigan legislature would have to approve an amendment to the tribe’s compact with the state.

Tribal Council Speaker Virgil Johnson noted, “The band acknowledges this is a long-term investment and we plan to continue to work with the community, state and federal officials to pursue the casino and economic development project. Our proposed Muskegon casino would provide revenues to help our tribe meet the unmet needs of its members by providing services that are either lacking or have been diminished over the past 15 years. This project would provide the tribe the ability to better the lives of tribal members through enhanced tribal government operations and infrastructure, including housing, education and social services.”