Editorial: Casino rejection a loss for Michigan

The Detroit News

June 16, 2022

Michigan is  moving toward investing $101 million to ensure Ford Motor Co. will retool its plants and create 3,000 jobs here. Yet the state slammed the door on a project in economically challenged Muskegon that promises the same number of jobs — and wouldn’t have cost the state a dime.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer failed to meet the deadline to sign off on the project, a new off-reservation casino proposed by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. The tribe projects the casino would have attracted more than 1.75 million visitors per year.

The tribe has been working toward this approval for nearly 14 years, and won federal approval in December 2020. This project had been moved forward by the Obama and Trump administrations, and is supported by the Biden administration. It had also been endorsed by former governors Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder.

Muskegon is home to the largest membership base of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. The casino revenue offered the chance of economic opportunity for tribal members.  

The governor’s explanation for why she didn’t sign off on the project by last Thursday’s deadline is unsatisfying. 

She essentially wants the casino project tie-barred to federal recognition of another tribe from the same region, the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. They have been trying for recognition for 28 years, and their status remains uncertain.

But holding up the Little River Band’s casino project on the hypothetical chance that the Grand River Bands might receive federal recognition and want to open a nearby casino is entirely unfair and makes zero economic sense. 

The casino would have been a $200 million-plus investment in the community, provide $15 million a year to the state strategic fund, $3 million in local revenue sharing payments and $1.5 million for donations to local charities. 

The project has been on Whitmer’s desk for 18 months and is shovel-ready. She denied it the day before the deadline to authorize it. 

The decision was curious, given the strong federal and local support it enjoyed, along with the backing of educational institutions, unions, business and community groups.

There are no other applications for off-reservation casinos currently pending in Michigan that would have competed with the Muskegon casino. 

Saturation of a region with casinos is a valid concern Whitmer may have. But in other parts of the state those concerns haven’t been enough to kill developments within relatively close proximity to each other.

“It’s a real shame that the governor didn’t move forward with the casino. It would have brought thousands of jobs here,” said Visit Muskegon Community Development Director Bob Lukens.

Rep. Terry Sabo, a Democrat from Muskegon, added: “I am extremely disappointed and upset with the decision by Gov. Whitmer to deny the proposed casino project in Muskegon County.  It is unfortunate for the Greater Muskegon area and especially for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.”

Such a bipartisan, community-supported project should have made it past the governor’s desk. 

That’s especially true at a time when the state is using taxpayer dollars to buy jobs.