Michigan could lose $22m if Lansing casino is approved

casino plans Michigan
casino plans Michigan
The Sault Ste. Tribe's planned casino in Lansing

Last week we reported that a $245 million dollar casino planned by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Lansing has long odds in being granted federal approval.

However, the project advanced this week with an 8-2 vote in favour of it by the Sault tribe’s board of directors. The casino still needs federal approval – but reports have revealed that if the plans do get accepted, then Michigan could lose more than $20 million in gaming proceeds it receives from the two other in-state American Indian tribes’ casinos.

This is how – LSJ.com reports that terms and conditions of Michigan’s compacts with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, which runs the FireKeepers Casino near Battle Creek, and the Gun Lake Tribe, which operates a casino near Grand Rapids – could allow the tribes to cease revenue sharing with the state if a casino attempts to rival them in their “designated market areas”.

And guess what? Lansing, Ingham County is a “designated market area” of both tribes’ casinos. So if the casino plans do get approved, then an estimated $22 million from casino revenue might no longer be dedicated to bodies which promote economic development in the state.

The Sault tribe’s attorney, John Wernet, said: “Certainly, the Sault tribe‘s purpose in pursuing this arrangement is not specifically to disrupt revenues to the state. The tribes are concerned about economic development, as well.”

An advocate for the tribes, James Nye, argued the arrangements the two other casino owning tribes in the state hold were reached with an understanding that no new casinos would open in an area that already has one.

What does the governor have to say? Well, for starters he doesn’t support expanded off-reservation tribal gaming. “The Governor is not interested in protracted court and legal battles and costs,” his spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said. Fat lot of help that was.

Wurfel did affirm the governor’s concerns over the idea of the state losing so much money. “Since Michigan is recovering from a dire economic situation,” she said, “the loss of those dollars could be significant.”

She continued: “Snyder has focused more on creating jobs through an overhaul of the state’s business climate, casinos, particularly those off of Indian reservations, have not been part of that plan.”

Is this a dead-cert that the casino won’t get federal approval in the state? Never say never.

Advocate Nye didn’t state whether the tribes would or wouldn’t stop making state payments if the plans went ahead, adding that it hangs on the government’s decision on the Lansing proposal. Which way will this swing?