FRUITPORT TWP. — The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has received the necessary federal approvals for its planned Muskegon County casino and is now calling on the Whitmer administration to approve a new gaming compact before starting construction.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in December issued a decision and a two-part determination in favor of the project proposed for a former horse racing track near the intersection of U.S 31 and I-96.
“This ruling clears the way for our Tribe to work with the Governor to create 3,000 new jobs and a permanent, year-round entertainment venue in Muskegon County,” Larry Romanelli, tribal ogema or elected leader, said in a statement. “We thank the Muskegon Community and other West Michigan communities for their support over the past 12 years and we look forward to putting shovels in the ground.”
The tribe’s proposal dates back to 2008 when it purchased the race track formerly known as Great Lakes Downs. The tribe has promised 1,500 full-time jobs and 1,500 construction and ancillary jobs as part of the $180 million project. Tribal officials say the project would produce $15 million in annual tax revenue for the state and millions for local governments.
Plans for the off-reservation casino include 1,700 slot machines, 35 table games and a 220-room hotel. Romanelli previously told MiBiz the remaining process before opening could take up to three years.
The tribe needs the state to approve a new gaming compact before the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians can open a second Michigan casino. The tribe currently operates the Little River Casino Resort north of Manistee.
Tribal officials say the Muskegon County site is ancestral land and holds the tribe’s largest population base. The tribe has also maintained government buildings at the location, which is in its service area.
The proposed project faced some headwinds earlier this month when Michigan lawmakers passed a resolution opposing the “unchecked proliferation of off reservation gaming” in Michigan.
However, the tribe has described it as non-binding and remains optimistic about compact negotiations, Tribal Business News reported earlier this month.
“We are optimistic and are counting on the Governor to say yes to the jobs, economic development and increased tribal services our project will bring to the community,” Romanelli said.