Little River Band Casino, officially owned and operated by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, plans to reapply for official approval to build a new casino close to Fruitport Township, Muskegon County, from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Because of this, the tribal leaders try to meet Whitmer face-to-face.
It’s been nearly 10 months since Whitmer rejected the tribe’s plans for a second casino in Michigan. However, that same issue is back on her agenda.
In this regard, according to Drew Ellis of PlayMichigan, Little River Band Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli is requesting an audience with the governor.
Furthermore, Romanelli told Ellis: “I have a call in to the governor to meet with her to see what her thoughts are now.
“Throughout the last year, that’s been the holdup, waiting for the federal recognition. One shouldn’t really depend on the other, but I understand her point. But now the determination has been brought forward. I think that we’re pretty much ready to go in my mind anyway. I’m looking for the governor to approve the project.”
However, in order to understand Romanelli’s plans, it’s required to look again at the background of the situation. Romanelli’s call to Whitmer is the culmination of many events going back years and involving an entirely different group of natives.
Event that led to Romanelli’s call to Whitmer:
“Event that led to his call to Whitmer was a recent determination by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA),“ according to Romanelli. However, that decision had nothing to do with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, but with the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. In addition, the group has submitted a request for federal recognition as a sovereign entity. But, the BIA rejected that request in March, making the Grand River Bands’ claim to land close to Fruitport Township no longer an obstacle to Little River Band’s plans.
However, if the BIA had granted the Grand River Bands federal recognition, the BIA could take the land into trust for that group. If that happened, the Grand River Bands would have been able to arrange its own gaming compact and manage a Michigan tribal casino itself.
For now, however, there’s no reason to worry about the two casinos in such close proximity to each other. On a related note, Whitmer quoted saturation concerns when she initially rejected Little River Band’s plan for a casino in June 2022.
It’s not yet clear whether Whitmer will be more determined to validate such a proposal now.
Furthermore, there’s still time left for Grand River Bands to appeal the BIA’s decision. Failing that, however, an act of the U.S. Congress could grant the tribe federal recognition.
There is a possibility that Whitmer would prefer to wait until the Grand River Bands run out of time to appeal, and that’s the main thing Romanelli probably wants to determine at their upcoming meeting.
Risk of damage to both tribes:
Since there doesn’t seem to be much benefit in not meeting Romanelli, it looks like that meeting will happen eventually. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Romanelli will leave the meeting pleased.
What’s more, things have not changed much for Whitmer since last June. She was then torn between the two sides, meaning that if she had given official approval to the Little River Band casino project, she would have greatly damaged the future of Grand River Bands in Muskegon County had the BIA granted necessary recognition.
However, as long as the appeal of the Grand River Bands is sustained, though, Whitmer runs the same risk of inadvertently damaging the group before it even gets started, while simultaneously, each passing month becomes more expensive for the Little River Band’s project. Moreover, the tribe has already been in a holding pattern there for nearly eight years.
The BIA would likely not validate the Grand River Bands gaming arrangement with the Little River Band casino being built very close to the Grand River Bands territory. In addition, the Little River Band project has been unnecessary delayed until now.
In this regard, Romanelli added in a conversation with Ellis: “When she rejected that first package, it does give us a few more hoops to go through in that we have to resubmit another package. The Department of the Interior has stated that it won’t be a lengthy process once we resubmit that package. We have plans whenever the governor gives us a green light from the state to go ahead and resubmit.”