The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Michigan vs. Bay Mills Indian Community already is having an impact. In that case the high court ruled Native American Indian tribes have sovereign immunity that protects them against lawsuits. As a result, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has withdrawn his petition to the high court to hear his lawsuit against the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians that wants to open a casino in downtown Lansing. Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said the state will return the case to a federal district judge in Grand Rapids to determine whether the Sault tribe violated a gaming compact it signed with the state. In addition, Yearout said, the attorney general’s office will name individual tribal officials, rather than the tribe as a whole, in lawsuits. The state believes the Sault tribe first needs to obtain revenue-sharing agreements with other Michigan tribes under a provision in its state gaming compact, Yearout said.
At the same time, the Sault tribe announced it has applied to the U.S. Department of the Interior to take its Lansing property along with acreage in Wayne County into federal trust. The tribe said it expects a decision from the Interior Department in a few weeks.
The tribe wants to build a 125,000 square foot casino adjacent to the Lansing Center along Michigan Avenue on land it purchased land from the city. A portion of electronic gaming proceeds would be shared with the city of Lansing for a college scholarship program.
Tribal officials said they’re also considering opening a casino on 71 acres it owns near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Sault tribal attorney John Wernet said, “We welcome the attorney general’s decision. We continue to evaluate our next steps, recognize that legal hurdles remain, but remain confident of our underlying legal position and fully committed to moving forward with our Lansing casino project.”
Meanwhile, a trial to approve Detroit’s plan to exit its $18 billion bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history, will begin in late July. Unreliable gaming revenue projections could affect the court’s ruling as well as hurt the city’s budget. Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr projects that wagering tax revenue from three local casinos, the city’s third largest source of cash, will remain essentially steady as far ahead as 2023.
But casino revenue has been falling in Detroit along with other gambling locations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Overall, revenue at the three casinos fell 4.75 percent in 2013. The decline has continued so far this year, with revenue over the first four months falling more than 6 percent from a year earlier. Besides more competition and recession, industry analysts also blame several factors for the gaming revenue drop: young people are not interested in casino gambling; the casino market is saturated; and thousands of local residents may see their wages drop due to the bankruptcy plan.
Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said the casino revenue projection is conservative and was calculated by Ernst & Young, the city’s financial restructuring advisors. Nowling said the calculations also were based on anticipated Michigan unemployment rates “continuing to improve and inflation to hold at or below 1 percent annually.” He said if the projections were too high, Detroit “will live within its means and will match spending with available revenue.”
Detroit officials also are dealing with an increase in problem gambling among the local Arab and Chaldean communities, from young adults to senior citizens. Imam Muhammad Elahi, leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, said the holy Qur’an considers gambling as offensive as alcohol. “It puts them together like they are two dangerous drugs,” Elahi said. “What people lose is much more than what some people may gain. The Qur’an wants us to seriously reflect on the reality of this situation.”
The Michigan Department of Community Health offers a free program operated by the Detroit-based Health Management Systems of America, which lately has been targeting the area’s multicultural communities. Program Manager Lori Mellow said educational literature is offered in foreign languages and individuals with gambling problems may consult specialists who speak Arabic or Spanish.