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Judge blocks Sault Tribe Lansing casino over tribal revenue sharing

March 6, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker in Grand Rapids issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday, temporarily blocking the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from applying to the federal government to put in trust Lansing property where the tribe plans to build an off-reservation casino.

The injunction was requested by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. The Sault Tribe operates the Kewadin Casinos in the Upper Peninsula, and the state is arguing that Section 9 in the compact with the tribe that allowed those casinos requires it to reach a revenue sharing agreement with other Michigan tribes.

The tribe has not done so and Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment said after the ruling that he does not believe they are required to do that.

“Other tribes have opened secondary casinos since the 1993 compact was signed and they didn’t have to seek our permission… It’s their sovereign right to do what they’re doing and I don’t believe we have a legal obligation, or even a moral obligation” to make an agreement with the other tribes, said Payment.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe is one of several in the state that stopped making annual, multi-million dollar casino revenue sharing payments to the state of Michigan after 1999, because they claimed that when the state allowed new tribal casinos in the late 1990s, it broke the agreement the earlier tribes had with the state.

“The Sault Tribe remains undeterred and steadfastly committed to pursuing our legal right to develop our Lansing casino. Anyone who understands tribal gaming and the trust land process also understands that this is going to be a lengthy process with multiple legal steps along the way. Today’s ruling is simply the first step in the legal process. At the end of the day, we expect to prevail because our 1997 federal Land Claim Settlement Act clearly gives us the right, and because of the substantial economic benefits the project will generate for the people of Greater Lansing and the members of our Sault Tribe,” said Payment.

John Wernet, an attorney representing the tribe, said Jonker’s ruling was part of “a preliminary skirmish and not a final decision on the merits” of the case.

“I trust the legal team” representing the Sault Tribe, said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero at the conference call with the news media late Tuesday. “I’m as excited about the (Lansing casino) project as ever. This is jobs and economic development for Lansing, and I’m confident we will succeed.”

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