The largest Native American Tribe in Michigan is facing an $88 million lawsuit after it failed to construct two new casinos after already receiving funding.
About Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is the largest tribe in the state of Michigan, with over 44,000 members, and currently operates four small tribal casinos in the upper peninsula. The majority of tribe members today live on the eastern section of the Upper Peninsula, where the tribe has over 8,572 square miles of federally recognized tribal land in the counties of Chippewa, Luce, Mackinac, Schoolcraft, Alger, Delta, and Marquette.
Plans for New Casinos Fall Through
Tribe leaders had plans to construct two new casinos in the lower peninsula. One in Lansing and another in New Boston, near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and had secured investments from two development companies in those areas.
The two development companies were JLLJ Development and Lansing Future Development II.
Both proposed casinos were to be built on off-reservation land. Before any casino construction began, however, the tribe had to request that the land be placed in their federal trust by the Department of the Interior (DOI). Since the land was off-reservation, it must be approved by the US DOI.
According to the lawsuit filed against the Kewadin Casinos Gaming Authority (KCGA) in Ingham County on January 3rd, the development companies were led to believe by the KCGA that gaining approval would be easy.
The earliest reports our team could find on this casino project go back to 2012. Many nearby tribal casinos quickly opposed the projects, like the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, which lies just 60 miles north, owned and operated by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. The FireKeepers Casino, owned and operated by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, sits 45 miles southwest of Lansing and also opposed the projects since they were on off-reservation land.
Many have called the move to work with the KCGA a mistake in the first place. Unknown to many, the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Tribe owned and built the Hollywood Casino at Greektown in 2000. After the recession in 2008, the casino went bankrupt and was sold to investors. Just four years later, the tribe somehow convinced investors to give them a significant amount of money (including a loan for $9 million) to build two new casinos on off-reservation land.
Price to Pay
Unfortunately for the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa Tribe and the KCGA, failure to acquire the sought-after land and construct their promised casinos has led to multiple court appearances and lawsuits over the years. Now the plaintiffs (JLLJ Development and Lansing Future Development II) are seeking a staggering $60 million in damages for the unbuilt casino near Detroit and $28.8 million in damages for the unbuilt casino in Lansing.
Judge Joyce Draganchuk ruled in favor of the two developers on January 3rd, requiring KCGA to pay over $88 million in lost profits and initial investments to the investment companies.
As of January 16th, 2023, the Sault Tribe announced it will be seeking relief from the ruling on January 3rd by Judge Joyce Draganchuk.
Sault Tribe Chairman Austin Lowes, said, “The Sault Tribe is deeply concerned with what it has discovered in reading the Court’s opinion . . . Our board has met with our legal counsel and is hopeful a new direction will lead to a better outcome.”
A Sault Tribe citizen commented on the recent news, stating, “If we were to pay that amount, it would be a disaster,” and “I would hope that we would win the appeal and have that amount really reduced, because we definitely could use the money for our tribal citizens, our services, our elders. None of us want to see that go. It would be extremely damaging to us.”
The Tribe is being represented by Daniel V. Barnett of Grewal Law PLLC after ending its relationship with Patterson law firm.
Mac Daniel is a Michigan native and freelance writer for PlayOnlineCasino and PlayOnlineSportsBetting. He has experience writing about a wide variety of topics, including healthcare, tourism, non-profit organizations, and most recently casino and sportsbetting news. To check out more of his work, visit: playonlinemichigan.com