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Fruitport Twp. casino stalled as opponents on east side of the state become more vocal

Fruitport Township property eyed for a casino remains covered in weeds as Little River Band of Ottawa Indians waits on approval from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — Very little has changed at the former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack in Fruitport Township since the U.S. Department of Interior granted the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians approval in December to build a $180 million casino on the property.

It took the Little River Band 12-years to get U.S. Department of Interior to put this property into federal trust, clearing the final federal hurdle. Approval is now needed at the state level, specifically the tribe needs Governor Gretchen Whitmer's support for the tribes second casino to become a reality.

Whitmer hasn't indicated whether she supports the project, and there's growing opposition to the Fruitport Township casino project from three Detroit casinos, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, and Detroit City Council.

Both elected bodies passed resolutions in June opposing the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians' Muskegon County casino and now tribal leaders from three other Michigan tribes are calling for an investigation into the project's federal approval.

In a letter to the inspector general for the U.S. Department of the Interior leaders of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe claim approval in the final days of the Trump administration was to "create enormous controversy in the state of Michigan and in particular to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer."

"We believe that this approval was driver by politics and a cynical attempt to politically harm Governor Whitmer because she was a fierce critic of President Trump and campaigned aggressively against his re-election in a state critically important to the Trump's re-election campaign," wrote Bob Peters, chairman of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians.

If built the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians believes the casino project would create 1,500 temporary construction jobs with 1,500 full time jobs after the casino opens.

State Representative Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) says it's the kind of large scale economic development not only Muskegon County but West Michigan needs. Sabo also rejects opposition from the east side of the state based on the believe that a Muskegon casino would harm casinos in Detroit.

"This is a big deal for the West Michigan region and we shouldn't have to get approval from Detroit for economic development" Sabo said. "Detroit needs to address their own revenue streams without infringing upon other municipalities."

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians already operates a casino in Manistee County. To open a second casino the tribe's existing gaming compact with the state would need to be amended. 

"I urge Governor Whitmer to complete the process and approve the casino and the much-needed economic development and job creation in Muskegon County," said Sabo. "I've made it clear that this is a big deal for West Michigan and Muskegon County."

"It's 100% reliant on the Governor's signature to move this project forward," added State Senator Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo).  "Muskegon matters, it's not just Detroit and we want to make sure the Governor hears that loud and clear."

Bumstead says nearly 100% of the feedback he hears in West Michigan related to the casino is in favor of the project being built. 

"She needs to sign off because it's that important to West Michigan and Muskegon," said Bumstead,. "Let's make this project happen, it's going to be a huge benefit to Muskegon, Muskegon County and the surrounding areas."

The 60 acre former horse track is near the interchange of I-96 and U.S. 31. The tribe says the project would also include a 220-room hotel. 

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