Commentary on Sault Tribe’s Proposed Lansing Casino

I can’t not say anything, since this proposed casino is in our own backyard. But seriously? The mayor says in 12-24 months he expects construction to start, and then another year or so after that there will be a fully functioning Indian casino in Lansing.

Wow.

We’re going to predict that it won’t happen. No chance.

Off-reservation Indian gaming is the most hotly-contested, politicized issue in American Indian affairs right now and maybe forever. Think of the interests arrayed against a Lansing casino, let alone one owned by an Indian tribe. The Detroit casinos will be opposed because it will cut into their bottom lines, and the entire City of Detroit, the Michigan Congressional delegation, the unions, everyone will throw their weight against this casino proposal.

More, up north just a few miles is another big problem for the mayor — the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. They’ll throw their weight against a Lansing casino, too, since a Lansing casino might destroy that tribe’s gaming market. They’ll have nothing to lose by fighting this every step of the way because they will be so severely injured by a Lansing casino that no lobbyist, no lawsuit, nothing will be too expensive to throw at it.

Finally, the law makes this difficult. Been saying this for months now. I suppose Sault Tribe believes, as I imagine the Bay Mills Indian Community does, that Bay Mills will eventually win on its legal theories relating to the Vanderbilt casino. it seems doubtful at best, given that Interior and the NIGC disagree. If that happens, then there will be 10-15 more Indian casinos in and around Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and so on in the next five years, especially if Bay Mills doesn’t comply with its revenue sharing obligations to the other tribes contained in the 1993 compacts (that’s right, even if they win, they only get one-seventh of the profit — go read section 9 of the 1993 compacts). Really hard to believe that will happen. Let’s set that aside for a minute.

The Sault Tribe will have to purchase land in Lansing, maybe the Lansing convention center or something. Then they’ll have to ask the Secretary of Interior to take the land into trust. And every trust acquisition application for gaming purposes requires an Environmental Impact Statement, and those take a few years to conclude. Once that’s done, the tribe will have to persuade Interior to take this land into trust. And that’s not so easy. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the governor to concur on any off-reservation gaming proposals. The Secretary has to then agree to take the land into trust, and even then someone in the Michigan Congressional could push through a rider preventing that action. It’s happened before.

And then, assuming the Secretary does take the land into trust, the lawsuits start. Trust acquisitions are governed by the Administrative Procedures Act. Anyone can sue, pretty much. The experiences of the three Potawatomi tribes in Michigan are instructive. The suits take years and years to conclude.

Of course, I’m no political scientist. Politics is money (see Citizens United) and anything can happen, including a backlash against Indian gaming that persuades Congress to ban off-reservation gaming. But the mayor’s three years is a dream, and kind of sick thing to promise to people in Lansing who might believe the mayor and see this as a real possibility for improving their lives.

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, fee to trust, gaming, IGRA, Michigan Indian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Commentary on Sault Tribe’s Proposed Lansing Casino

  1. Dr. William Cross says:

    It seems a few years ago Congress passed the $85 million “Michigan Indian Land Claims Act” which “mandates” (without asking) that the Secretary of Interior take land-in-trust for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Michigan without reservation (no-pun intended). Can the Tribe game on such lands? that seems to be the real question…

  2. Sean Reed says:

    As a point of clarification: Section 9 of the Gaming Compact of 1993 provides that off reservation gaming may not occur without written agreement with the tribe proposing off reservation gaming and the State’s other federally recognized Indian Tribes. Therefore, even if off reservation gaming was possible here, the revenue to the tribe seeking off reservation gaming would actually have to be shared with all 12 tribes and not just the 7 signatory tribes of the 1993 compact.

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