Bernero Talks To Sault Tribe About Casino
The city of Lansing and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians are in negotiations for a potential downtown casino, two sources with knowledge of the talks told MIRS today.
Lansing Mayor Virg BERNERO had hoped to make an official announcement of a deal sometime this week, but that has been pushed forward two to four weeks. If one were built, organized labor would push to be involved in the construction or renovation of a facility.
“There’s been a lot of discussion,” said UAW Local 602 President Art LUNA, who has been party to some of the discussions. “It’s an opportunity to bring jobs to Lansing.”
Attorney Richard McLELLAN, who consulted with the Bernero administration on the feasibility of a casino in Lansing, said his conclusion is that no more casinos can be built in Michigan, which is not an uncommon opinion, he said. However, Bernero is working with other legal counsel to find another legal avenue.
“If someone can figure out how to do it, more power to them,” McLellan said. “Maybe somebody has a way to do it. If they do, it will be a new theory. It will have to be.”
Sault Tribe Chairman Joe Eitrem would neither confirm nor deny its interest in “any project that may or may not be under consideration at this time.
“The Sault Tribe is regularly presented with economic development and business opportunities that we evaluate relative to our long-term tribal goals and objectives,” Eitrem said. “We will explore any and all business and development opportunities that offer the potential to help us achieve our goals of economic self-sufficiency and improving programs and services for our members.
“If and when we are prepared to announce our firm interest in any such a project, we will inform our members, the news media, and other audiences.”
A phone call to a Bernero spokesman was not returned by MIRS‘ deadline.
Under a constitutional amendment approved in 2004, the creation of any new non-Indian casino would need statewide and local voter approval. Any new Indian casino would need to follow specific federal guidelines that McLellan said he doesn’t believe any Native American tribe can qualify under.
Also, every tribe made a commitment to the state not to pursue off-reservation gaming unless all Michigan tribes agree.
This is a sentiment shared by James Nye, spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi. He said the Sault Tribe has the Kewadin Casino in the Upper Peninsula and his client opposes any casino that goes “shopping for land hundreds of miles away from its tribal government headquarters.
“That is contrary to the intent of Congress and the federal courts in establishing the legal framework for Indian gaming,” Nye said.
However, earlier this year the federal government reversed its gaming policy, dramatically increasing the likelihood that there could be an expansion of Michigan’s Native American casinos (See “New Life For Off-Reservation Casinos,” 6/14/11).
As a result, there’s a re-evaluation of possible off-reservation casino sites, many of which had previously appeared unlikely to receive approval.
That includes the Great Lakes Downs site at Muskegon, where the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians want to open a casino; sites at Vanderbilt, Port Huron and Flint, where the Bay Mills Tribe of Chippewa Indians want to open casinos; and, the Pinnacle Race Course at Romulus where the Sault tribe also would like to build a casino.
Bay Mills is set to make a presentation to the Flint Township Board on Monday.
Ted O’Dell of the Lansing Jobs Coalition, who spearheaded a petition effort earlier this year in an attempt to drum up interest for a casino project, said he supports Bernero’s efforts to get a casino into downtown Lansing, pointing to the 1,500 jobs it could create.
“This would be a fantastic opportunity for Lansing,” O’Dell said. “If Lansing doesn’t take advantage of it, it will go somewhere else in Michigan — Saginaw, Flint, somewhere else where people need jobs.”