Officials reviewing northern Michigan casino case

By Tim Martin
Lansing, Michigan (AP) November 2010

The owners of a competing tribal casino say they may withhold state payments to protest a slot machine operation the Bay Indian Community opened earlier this month in northern Michigan.

The casino with nearly 40 slot machines opened Nov. 3 to a firestorm of protests from five tribes, some of which have gambling facilities in the area. Rivals say Bay Mills did not follow proper procedure to get the land placed in a federal trust or to pursue gambling on non-reservation lands.

They want federal and state authorities to shut the place down.

The case could set a precedent about the authorization required to open some types of off-reservation casinos.

In a statement issued soon after it opened the casino, the Bay Mills tribe said it met the requirements needed to open the facility. But Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration has said it is "deeply concerned" about the opening of the casino, in part because it isn't on the tribe's reservation.

Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for Michigan's attorney general's office, said last week the "matter remains under review."

The National Indian Gaming Commission didn't immediately return messages left for comment.

Bay Mills runs two casinos in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where the tribe is based. The Vanderbilt casino is in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, about 170 miles north of Lansing.

Five tribes have said federal or state government officials should shut down the casino in Vanderbilt. One of them, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, is considering withholding economic incentive payments made to Michigan until the matter is resolved.

Like many tribes in Michigan, the Little Traverse Bay tribe pays the state 6 percent of its electronic gaming profits in accordance with its compact with the state. The tribe's payments topped $2.5 million in 2009.

The tribe said in a letter to state officials last week that it will make a final decision in February on whether to suspend its 6 percent economic incentive payment because of the Vanderbilt casino, which it says violates state compacts. Part of the opposition to the Bay Mills operation comes from its potential to draw business away from other casinos.

Yearout said last week that the state's position is that the Little Traverse Bay Bands has no basis for stopping its payments.

Other tribes that have criticized the Bay Mills opening include the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.