Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday rejected a proposed off-reservation casino for near Fruitport, Muskegon County. The decision effectively torpedoes the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians‘ 12-year effort to build the casino on the site of the former Great Downs racetrack.
“This basically flattens it for us,” Larry Romanelli, Ogema of the Little River Band, told MLive. “I just appreciate the community support over the years. They’ve been very supportive, and I feel bad for the community as well as my tribe.”
Because it would have been an off-reservation casino, the proposal required the approval of the federal government and the state. The Department of Interior gave its blessing to the plan in December 2020. But Whitmer said she was reluctant to follow suit until the matter of another tribe’s bid to gain federal recognition was resolved.
Grand River Band Opposition
The Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians has applied to the US Interior Department (DOI) for recognition. If granted, it would give the tribe the right to build its own casino on its sovereign lands. The decision has been delayed by the pandemic and is currently expected in October.
The federal government denied Whitmer’s request for an extension to the Thursday deadline for her decision on the casino, pending the outcome of the Grand River Band application. The DOI also declined to expedite its decision on the tribe’s federal status.
The Grand River Band has opposed the Little River Band’s casino ambitions and claims ancestral ties to the land where it would have been built.
But should they receive federal recognition, their tribal lands that would be eligible for a casino are 92 miles away from the site.
As such, Romanelli bemoaned that Whitmer “denied it on misinformation”
“I think it’s an absolutely wrong decision,” he added.
Local lawmakers, business owners, and community leaders also expressed their disappointment at the decision to axe the casino project, which had broad local support.
“I’m upset at the decision because I know how big of a deal this was for the greater Muskegon area, but more so, for the Little River Band and what they’ve been through over the years,” State Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) told MLive.
They have done everything that government has asked them to do, whether it be local government or state government or federal government, with the expectation at the end that they’d get a casino,” Sabo said.
Whitmer said she would be willing to revisit the Little River Band project once the question of the Grand River Band’s federal recognition is resolved.
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