Michigan Governor Rejects Casino Project Proposal in Muskegon County

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has denied a casino project proposal from the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians for Muskegon. She cited concerns that a casino near I-96 in Muskegon may interfere with a federal status of a nearby tribe.

Little River officials expressed disappointment at the apparent failure of what was a 14-year effort to establish a casino and resort in Muskegon.

“It’s a real shame that the governor didn’t move forward with the casino,” Visit Muskegon Community Development Director Bob Lukens said to MLive.com. “It would have brought thousands of jobs here, but it also would be a real economic engine for our area. It takes away another reason for people not only to visit Muskegon but to host their meetings or events here.”

The proposed project in Muskegon County would have been developed on the site of the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack and included a $180 million casino and a 220-room hotel. It is not reservation land.

In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Gov. Whitmer expressed her decision to reject the Little River plan and said the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, located in Fruitport, only a few miles south of the casino site proposed by Little River Band is pursuing federal recognition as a tribe from the Department of Interior. Whitmer explained there exists an “uncertainty created” by the efforts of the Grand River Band, and did not want a casino nearby to jeopardize that endeavor.

Why it matters: What’s the Need For The Grand River Bands Of Ottawa Indians To Receive Federal Recognition?

Issue Hinges on Tribal vs. Non-Tribal Lands

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians operates a casino in Manistee, but because the casino project in Muskegon County would be on non-tribal lands, it requires approval from both the State of Michigan and Washington D.C. The Federal government gave its blessing to the project in 2020, but Whitmer has been waiting to see if the Grand River Band is recognized by the Bureau of Indians Affairs, which is the oldest federal agency in the Interior.

Michigan has reached its maximum of retail casino licenses, so if a new casino was built, it would need to be approved for a vacant license. If Grand River Bans is awarded status as a tribe by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the State of Michigan could grant another retail operator license to that tribe if a casino plan was approved.

Whitmer is not alone in her opposition to a casino on non-tribal lands in the region. The Wayne County Board of Commissioners and other groups have come out against the expansion of casinos located on non-tribal lands in Michigan.

There are 24 land-based casinos in Michigan, but none in Muskegon or in adjacent Kent and Ottawa counties. Gun Lake Casino, operated by the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians of Michigan, is located in Allegan County and is in the final stages of a major renovation and expansion.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He enjoys writing, running, and lemon bars. He lives near Lake Michigan with his daughters and usually has an orange cream soda nearby.