Ruling Wont Impact Casino Case

March 26, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A reported recent ruling made by the U.S. Department of Interior should not affect a decision coming from the Michigan Supreme Court that involves an anti-casino brief filed by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a DOI agency, reportedly ruled that a $100 million casino project proposed by the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi Indians wouldn’t have a significant environmental impact on the Wayland Township property, the former Ampro Industries site, where the tribe wants to build its gaming house.

As of late last week, however, that ruling hadn’t been published and the regional DOI office wouldn’t confirm whether it was issued. Notice that a ruling had been made came from a press release issued by the tribe. Whether or not a ruling has been made, the chamber wouldn’t agree with its finding.

The business group feels an Allegan County casino would have a disastrous financial effect on Kent County businesses, siphoning $50 million annually from local tills. So last October, GRACC filed an amicus curiae brief with the state’s highest court claiming the tribe received a compact in a manner that violates Michigan’s constitution.

The law firm of Rhoades McKee, representing the chamber, told the seven justices earlier this month that only members of the House ratified the Gun Lake compact and they did so by resolution. The law firm argued passage by resolution violates the state constitution and that legislation has to be done through bills and be approved by both the House and Senate.

Bruce Courtade, a partner at Rhoades McKee, told the Business Journal last week that the bureau’s decision should not influence the justices’ upcoming ruling on the chamber’s brief.

“It should make no difference. These are entirely separate issues and entirely separate challenges,” said Courtade.

“The Supreme Court challenge goes to the issue of whether the Legislature properly took steps to enact legislation required to approve a compact. The BIA issue is an administrative review focused on the environmental and economic impact of a casino,” he added.

Courtade explained that the administrative issue concerns lands in trust and is not related to whether the adoption of the compact was done legally. Because of the remoteness of the two issues, he didn’t feel the BIA ruling would sway the justices’ decision.

“These are such distinct issues that it is hard to believe that something like this would impact their analysis,” said Courtade.

In addition to the chamber’s brief, the justices also heard arguments from Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos (TOMAC) and Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema.

TOMAC, along with former lawmaker Laura Baird, argued that four other compacts were improperly approved, ratified without the full consent of the Legislature. Warner, Norcross and Judd represented TOMAC and Baird in the suit, which doesn’t include the Wayland casino.

The Grandville Republican, joined by state senator and fellow GOPer Shirley Johnson of Royal Oak, argued that Gov. Jennifer Granholm acted as a member of the legislative branch when she amended a compact and redirected state revenue from it without input from state lawmakers. Attorneys Michael O’Brien and Alfred Hall represented Sikkema and Johnson in their brief, which also does not involve the Gun Lake compact.

The federal ruling allows the tribe to set the land aside for its use, meaning the Gun Lake band can build a Class II casino. But that license doesn’t allow for the most lucrative games like blackjack and craps that a Class III license does. The tribe has reported that a full-blown gaming house would be worth 4,300 jobs and $170 million in revenue annually.

But the chamber claimed that the tribe overstated its revenue forecast by more than $70 million, saying it would be $97 million instead, and that $66 million of that yearly take would come from existing businesses in Kent, Ottawa, and Kalamazoo counties.

Granholm hasn’t signed the Gun Lake compact yet, so apparently the tribe can’t proceed with a Class III casino. A governor’s signature is required for a bill to become state law, but not for a “plain” resolution. A plain resolution is one that emerges from only one chamber, such as the House, while a concurrent resolution comes from both chambers.

A resolution is defined as a document that expresses the will of the House or Senate and is normally used to urge state agencies to take certain actions; to formally approve plans of governmental agencies; to conduct certain legislative business; or to establish committees to examine issues. A resolution can also congratulate or pay tribute to someone or a group.

If the House did ratify the Gun Lake compact through a resolution, is the governor’s signature necessary because it is a plain resolution? That question may become moot if the Supreme Court decides the compact is invalid.

Courtade said he wasn’t sure how the justices would rule on the chamber’s brief. But he did feel that the vote would be close, possibly 4 to 3. The court is expected to reveal its decision on the matter this summer.       

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