Michigan Governor Whitmer Rejects Little River’s Proposal For Off-Reservation Casino

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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has denied the Little River Band of Ottawa Indian’s request to build an off-reservation casino.

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians had proposed opening a $180 million casino and hotel at the former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack in Fruitport Township.

The Governor declined the 12-year effort made by the tribe a day before the final decision deadline.

Whitmer said she felt as if she was in an “impossible position” when announcing her decision which came after an initial six-month delay.

Whitmer released this statement regarding the decision:

“Today, after the U.S. Department of the Interior refused to extend a critical deadline for this decision or offer information on a separate tribal recognition decision currently pending before the Department, I am communicating my non-concurrence on the Little River Band of Ottawa Indian’s proposal to open an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township.”

The tribe needed approval from the Governor as the land is not a part of their tribal grounds.

It is important to note that the construction of the new hotel and casino did have bi-partisan support from presidential administrations, including Obama, Trump, and Biden.

Whitmer was faced with pushback from legislators after the news of her declining the casino proposal.

“Today is a sad day for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Muskegon residents, and those of the surrounding area as their governor regrettably chose to deny a long-suffering casino project that had virtually unanimous support from here all the way to Washington, D.C.,” said 34th State Sen. Jon Bumstead.

92nd State Rep. Terry Sabo also weighed in with his thoughts on Whitmer’s decision, “The tribe did all that was asked of them by local, state, and federal governments over the last 12 years. I have been supporting them in their efforts for 10 of those years in my role as an elected official.”

Larry Romanelli Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Ogema shared that “tribal members are absolutely devastated” by Governor Whitmer’s conclusion. This project would have accomplished beneficial things for the Muskegon community. The casino was projected to create 3,000 new jobs, 1,500 of which would be permanent positions. The tribe must now wait to see if Witmer decides to entertain a second proposal for the project.

While the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians bears this loss, another tribe has the potential to foster a win in their future. Since 1994, Grand River Bands has been working toward the effort of becoming a federally recognized tribe and claiming the very land that Little River was hoping to build their new casino. If the tribe gains access to this land, they would be qualified to open and operate a casino in place of Little Rivers. The federal government has until October 12th to come to their conclusion, despite Whitmer’s request for an extension.

“Despite my request, the Department of Interior did not move the June 16 deadline for this decision. I asked for additional time so the Department could do their part and give the information I needed to make this important decision,” Whitmer said. “The Department of Interior first needs to decide whether they are providing federal recognition for the neighboring Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. It is critical to have this information before making an informed decision.”

Even though the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians formulated a thoughtful and educated proposal, a 10-year environmental impact analysis, and the plans to create thousands of jobs, it wasn’t enough to gain Governor Whitmer’s approval.