The Casino Next Door
WAYLAND — After seven years of lobbying and litigation, it is now all but certain that there will be a tribal casino in
This week marks the deadline for the U.S. Department of the Interior to take the former Ampro manufacturing facility in Bradley into trust on behalf of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, commonly known as the Gun Lake Tribe, clearing the way for renovation of the property into a 147-acre casino.
It is expected that the government will delay taking the land into trust, however, pending a federal court decision expected in the coming days.
On Feb. 23, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit brought by Michigan Gambling Opposition challenging the decision to place the land into trust. The suit's primary argument was that the government had not properly examined the environmental impacts of the casino. MichGo, an anti-gaming group founded by Allegan County residents, has requested a stay against that decision pending an appeal.
If the stay is not granted, the Gun Lake Casino will likely break ground in the next 60 days. If it is granted, there is a still a strong possibility that the casino will begin construction in the coming months. The appeals court recently heard two similar cases and sided with the government on both. Last year, it dismissed a lawsuit against Dowagiac's Pokagon Band of Pottawatomi Indians and the forthcoming Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, a nearly identical case involving a
"All of these issues have already been argued about and upheld," said John Shagonaby, CEO of MBPI Inc., the tribe's economic development office. "The advantage of going through this process after them is that we were able to look at what they did and learn from it."
Unlike the other cases, Shagonaby noted, no aspect of the MichGo complaint was upheld, including the one issue for which Judge
Either way, the tribe is now ramping up efforts for the potentially $250 million project. With roughly 100,000 square feet of gaming, including 2,400 machines and 75 tables, the casino is roughly half the size of the Soaring Eagle Casino Resort in
The tribe is wrapping up negotiations on a labor agreement for the project.
"We believe the casino will have a huge economic impact in that area," said Hugh Coward, president of the Iron Workers Local 340 in
Also looking forward to the groundbreaking are the thousands of potential workers introduced to the project at job fairs organized by Friends of the Gun Lake Tribe, a 10,000-member group organized to oppose MichGo and 23 is Enough. The tribe plans to host a final job and vendor fair when construction is underway. Less than 5 percent of positions are expected to be filled by the tribe's 325 members.
"There are going to be a lot of jobs available for people from all over the region," said Jason Palmer, the tribe's director of development. "We want to strengthen the region and the economy … and we want to use vendors who have been supportive of that."
Especially in the past few months, the tribe has emphasized a commitment to avoid hiring members of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce or Holland Area Chamber of Commerce, organizations that have taken a position against the casino development, with limited exceptions for "sole-source" providers such as advertising outlets and other unique vendors. Special preference will be granted to members of organizations that have supported the project, such as the West Michigan Hispanic,
The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is largely credited with organizing the original opposition to the casino during the tenure of former president
Current Chamber President
"If construction does get underway, our hope is that all the region's businesses will have an equal opportunity to compete for any projects," she said. "We presume the investors in the casino are interested in profits and will ultimately demand the best quality at the lowest prices."
Englehart said that some members have left the chamber with intentions to bid on the $20 million in annual casino purchases, but with a 20 percent gain in membership last year, the loss is statistically insignificant.
Jane Clark, president of the Holland Chamber of Commerce, said the casino has been a "non-issue" in the three years she has led the organization. The chamber did adopt a position against tribal gaming expansion in 2003, but not specific to the Gun Lake Casino. It was never a member of 23 is Enough, she said, and recently requested to be removed from the PAC's list of supporters.
"Will we have members bidding on the work? I don't know," she said. "I've only had one member say anything about it either way, and that was 'Keep up the good work.'"
Englehart said that there had been virtually no discussion among its members or leadership concerning the casino in recent memory, and added that the chamber might someday count the Gun Lake Casino among its members.
"We continue to oppose for the same reasons we have in the past, but it's not a priority," she said. "We have remained open to all dialogue on this issue."
The chamber's concern, and the original sentiment behind the opposition, is that
Sak cited as an example the Soaring Eagle in
While the debate on whether a casino is right for
Under normal circumstances, the tribe will need a compact approved by the legislature and governor to operate a Class III casino. Without it, the tribe can move ahead with a Class II casino, which would be limited primarily to card games, bingo and some electronic games, with no local or state regulation.
In 2002, the House and Senate approved a Class III compact for the casino, which then-Gov.
While the tribe will move ahead with the Class II project initially, any avenue it proceeds on toward Class III gaming will likely involve further litigation.
"If the court rules against us, the fight will ultimately move to
The tribe is fully expecting another legal fight, said
In an interview last week on Newsradio WOOD 1300 in
"They're going to start their casino one way or another, and we need to negotiate to get the best deal for the citizens of