Wait Continues For Decision On Muskegon County Casino

Written By Derek Helling on February 14, 2023
little river bands michigan casinos tribal

The easiest way to avoid making a decision that will upset one party regardless of the choice you make is to simply never decide. A ruling that will affect plans for Michigan casinos is on hold yet again.

The US Dept. of the Interior (DOI) has issued another extension on the matter of whether it will grant federal recognition to an Indigenous Peoples Group in the state. If the department ever does decide on the matter, it could determine who will operate a casino in Muskegon County.

Hopeful Michigan casinos operators still waiting

The DOI is now on its ninth extension for ruling on an application for federal recognition for the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. The group first applied for such recognition in 2017. Now, the DOI has until Feb. 23 to rule on that issue.

For the leaders of the group, the delay might be worse than a denial of the application. With a denial, they could begin the appeal process immediately. According to Marisa Oberle of Fox17, Ogema Ron Yob would like to see a decision soon.

“I hope we finally get a decision…if it’s negative then we got something to counter with, but positive, of course, we’d love that. We’re ready either way.”

For the group, federal recognition is much larger than whether the group ever gets to operate its casino. Such status would grant the group access to myriad resources. Resources that could improve the quality of life for its members along with a modicum of self-governance.

At the same time, casino plans are part of the decision. The Great River Bands aren’t the only entity awaiting this decision with gaming interests in mind, though.

Land dispute in Muskegon County

Last October, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians renewed its push to open its second tribal casino on the same land that the Grand River Bands have laid claim to. That dispute over the land near Freeport Township led to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer denying the Grand River Bands’ request for a gaming compact negotiation last June.

In July, the Michigan Senate issued a resolution supporting the Grand River Bands’ application for federal recognition. The bottom line is that both groups are waiting on the DOI decision. If the Grand River Bands’ recognition never comes, that would open the door to a Little River Band casino in Muskegon County.

On the other hand, a decision granting that recognition would essentially nullify the Little River Band’s claim to the land. The Grand River Bands would be free to negotiate a gaming compact with the state and open a casino there instead.

With the DOI extension in force, however, everyone is in limbo.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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