Michigan Tribe Applies For Land Trust Status

With trust applications filed with the Department of Interior, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians hopes to build off-reservation casinos in downtown Lansing (l.) and near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently withdrew his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit stopping the Lansing venture.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan recently filed applications with the U.S. Department of Interior to take into trust three acres near downtown Lansing, just east of the Capitol and the Lansing Center, and 71 acres in Huron Township near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, to build off-reservation casinos. The tribe would invest 5 million in a 125,000 square foot Kewadin Lansing casino, which would create 700 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. A Huron Township casino would generate money to provide services for tribal members in Metro Detroit. Tribal officials said they will conduct an economic impact study to determine the scope of the Wayne County project. The interior secretary could act on applications for the sites within a few weeks, the officials said.

Last December a federal appeals court ruled that the Sault tribe could proceed with plans to build the Lansing casino. The state has opposed the project, but Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently withdrew his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the lawsuit. The Supreme Court also recently ruled in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community that Indian tribes have sovereign immunity that prevents them from being sued.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has promoted the Sault’s casino for more than two years. He said, “I grow more optimistic by the day that we will get this done. There will no doubt be additional challenges to the project but we remain confident that we will succeed.”

However, the Sault’s announcement has other Michigan tribes and officials concerned. James Nye, spokesman for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, said in a statement, “Not only does this proposal violate the tribal-state gaming compacts, but also would blow a hole in Detroit’s bankruptcy plan. It is ironic that the Sault Tribe once built a casino in Detroit to help the city. After losing that casino in bankruptcy it wants to build a new one that will cripple the city.” Nye added, “The gaming compacts clearly require a written agreement between all of the tribes before this action can occur. It’s regrettable that the Sault tribe has ignored agreements it signed. Furthermore, the state would lose over $30 million per year as nearby tribes’ compacts would be violated, thus ceasing state payments.”

Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Schuette, noted, “State and federal laws do not permit tribes to open casinos in every corner of the state, and the Sault tribe has now violated its gaming compact with the state twice. We will use every tool at our disposal to stop illegal off-reservation gambling.”

In response, Sault Chairman Aaron Payment said, “Our tribe is within federal law and our legal rights to pursue these opportunities to create thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars in new revenues that will benefit our members, the people of Lansing, public school students in Lansing, the people of Huron Township and the entire state.”

Gambling revenue in Detroit has taken a hit since a casino opened in Toledo, an hour’s drive away. When a casino in Windsor, Ontario is included, the Detroit casino market has fallen 16 percent since 2001. Since the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2013, revenue has dropped 5.2 percent. As the city’s three casinos continue to lose revenue, the city will lose an estimated about $10 million a year in gaming taxes, which in 2012, was $171 million, about 14 percent of what the city took in.