Michigan Petitions High Court

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (l.) recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an appellate court decision in the case of Michigan vs. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The tribe wants to open a $245 million casino in Lansing. Schuette said the case has implications regarding tribal sovereignty and state gaming compacts.

The U.S. Supreme Court may decide the outcome of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ desire to build the 5 million Kewadin Lansing Casino next to the Lansing Center, located 300 miles from the tribe’s Upper Peninsula reservation. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently petitioned the High Court to hear the case and reverse a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that a federal district judge should not have granted the state an injunction to stop the project because the casino had not opened. However, the appellate court granted Schuette a stay while the state prepared to petition the Supreme Court. The appellate court also delayed the tribe’s land-into-trust application to the Interior Department .

Schuette’s petition to the Supreme Court asks if American Indian tribes, as sovereign nations, are immune from legal action to enforce gaming compacts they signed with the state. Also, if tribes can claim immunity, does federal law let states sue them to stop gaming. Schuette’s petition notes the appellate court’s viewpoint is that “states may not sue in federal, or any other court, to enjoin a tribe’s imminent violation of significant provisions of its gaming compact. This ruling not only thwarts the state’s bargained-for ability to limit off-reservation gaming, it has a negative impact on Michigan’s other tribes, many of which signed compacts with identical language barring trust applications for off-reservation gaming.”

John Wernet, an attorney for the Sault tribe, said Schuette’s petition was “as much delay as anything. This amazingly sweeping challenge to tribal sovereignty, I think, is misguided.”

Meanwhile the state still awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on Michigan vs. Bay Mills Indian Community. That tribe opened an off-reservation casino in Vanderbilt in 2010, which later was closed. The state believes the Bay Mills decision will impact the Sault tribe’s plans, since both hinge on the state’s ability to stop off-reservation gaming. Wernet said the Bay Mills case “is entirely irrelevant” to whether Schuette should have been granted an injunction. Oral arguments were heard in the Bay Mills case on December 2, 2013.

Also in Michigan, the state gaming control board has instituted new rules regarding “millionaire parties” at poker rooms. Under the new rules, the poker rooms may operate just 208 days a year, host no more than two parties per location per day and take a 45 percent cut of profits instead of the current 50 percent split between the poker room and charities.

Some lawmakers opposed the new rules. State Senator Rick Jones, who sponsored legislation to ease some of the rules and raise gambling limits at charitable events, said, “The rules don’t allow enough games to take place so enough charities can be served so the rooms can make enough money. They need to make enough money to exist.” The House is considering the Senate-passed bill but it’s not clear if the House will send the legislation to

Governor Rick Snyder, who supports the stricter rules.

The main points of contention are how profits should be split between the poker rooms and charities, how many charities can host gambling events at the same time at one location and how many days a year the poker rooms may operate. Both sides agree the poker rooms should be subjected to criminal background checks in order to be licensed to hold Texas Hold ‘Em and blackjack fundraisers for charities in exchange for a cut of the profits.

Poker rooms reported revenue from events as $7.9 million in 2002 and $184 million 2012. In the same decade charities’ profits rose from $3.6 million to $15.8 million. The state said charities received 81 percent of the proceeds in 2004 but now receive 50 percent under profit-sharing agreements that were not considered when the charity games were authorized in 1976 under the Bingo Act update. Charities said they’re taking less of the cut percentage-wise but still raising much more money for their missions.

The Gaming Control Board has close 23 millionaire party sites since 2010 for illegal gambling.