Allegan County Indian Casino Would Be States 18th

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LANSING — The Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi Indians is fighting for another casino in Michigan, adding to the state’s 17 Native American casinos.

The proposed casino would be developed about midway between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids on 100 to 200 acres of land in Dorr Township along U.S. 131, in Allegan County.

The Gun Lake Band sued the state of Michigan in federal court for failing to negotiate a casino compact. Michigan won’t know its legal obligations regarding the negotiation of casino licenses for Native Americans until a court decision is made, said Rep. James Koetje, R-Grandville.

“It’s well within our rights to pursue this activity,” said John Shagonaby, the Gun Lake Band executive director.

Not only would it create more jobs, “but also provide an additional entertainment venue for the community,” said Ken Brock, the tribe’s public relations consultant.

But, the idea of a casino in the area doesn’t please everyone.

“I think any kind of gaming has a very negative impact on the fabric of the surrounding community,” said Rep. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck.

She said families will suffer because of the alcohol, crime and addictions associated with gambling.

According to Ron Reno, the gambling research analyst for the national Focus on the Family organization, Americans spend more than $60 billion each year on the various forms of gaming, including lotteries and casinos.

“Most people see casinos as harmful to the region rather than helpful,” said Rep. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland.

“I think it’s kind of hypocritical of them,” Shagonaby said about the legislators opposing the casino, because they weren’t fighting against previous forms of gaming. “Where were they when horse racing came?”

Shagonaby said they are drawing the line at their tribe.

Kuipers introduced a resolution Feb. 14 opposing the approval of any new tribal-state gaming compacts, which allow the state to take some revenue to balance the price of the casino for road construction and policing.

Gov. John Engler signed a compact three years ago for the final four casinos in Michigan.

Now, Birkholz said, Engler is “going back on his words.”

At the time of that compact, the Gun Lake Band wasn’t federally recognized as a tribe, said Brock, so the law doesn’t apply to them. Once tribes become federally recognized, they’re all allowed to pursue the full range of economic development on tribal land, he said.

That’s why Brock is not worried about the resolution passing.

Since December, he has collected more than 1,000 petition signatures from local residents supporting the new casino.

“The local units of government are very supportive,” Brock said.

Don Kaczanowski, Dorr Township supervisor, said he is concerned only about the addiction that gambling may cause. Other than that, he said, he doesn’t see what everyone is worried about.

Brock said the only organizations opposed to the casino are the area’s two legislators and the local Christian Reformed churches. “I can respect their moral position,” he said, “but they can simply choose not to go.”

Birkholz said she’s also morally against having a casino in the area.

“I told (the Pottawatomi Indians) three years ago that I was opposed to casino gaming,” she said. “They understand where I am coming from, but they’d like for me to support them.”

Birkholz said she is talking to other legislators about the problems casinos bring.

Other Michigan organizations opposing casino gaming are the West Michigan Gambling Opposition (WMGO), the Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos (TOMAC), who are fighting a proposed casino in New Buffalo, and the Citizens Exposing Truth About Casinos (CETAC) in Battle Creek. Together, they claim memberships of more than 10,000 people.

The Gun Lake Band Indians would be the 12th tribe operating casinos in Michigan. Michigan tribal gaming began in Baraga in the Upper Peninsula in the early 1980s, when the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community opened a high-stakes bingo game. The Michigan Gaming Control and Revenue Act legalized non-tribal casino gaming in 1996 with Proposal E, authorizing three Detroit casinos.

Gambling is now legal in all states except Utah, Hawaii and Tennessee.

Recent Articles by Christina Stolarz, Capital News Service

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