MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — The former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack in Fruitport Township remains covered in tall weeds even though 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 clear the necessary federal hurdle. The property went into federal trust in December 2020. That caused the Michigan-based tribe's focus to shift to Lansing for approval at the state level.
To move forward with the project the tribe needs Governor Gretchen Whitmer's support. If built it would be the tribe's second casino, it already operates the Little River Casino just north of Manistee.
According to Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Ogema Larry Governor Whitmer has until Dec. 16 to give her support for the project. It's been about 10-months and Whitmer hasn't made any public comments supporting or opposing the project.
"There's really no legitimate reason not to have this approved," Romanelli said. "12 years is a long time and you learn patience."
Even if Whitmer doesn't make any declaration against the project it would essentially bring an end to the tribe's efforts to build a casino on 60 acres near the interchange of I-96 and U.S. 31.
"I'm feeling positive in some ways right now," Romanelli said. "It means 1,500 to 3,000 jobs, in this economy how do you say no to something like that?"
On Tuesday, Oct. 26 Muskegon County Commissioners passed a resolution supporting the project. And Muskegon Heights Mayor Walter Watt hopes anyone who supports the casino will join him on Nov. 9 for a rally outside the Michigan State Capital in Lansing.
"It's a tremendous opportunity that I just can't understand why it hasn't been signed," Watt said. "We call upon the Governor to sign the agreement that's vitally important to the state of Michigan. It's vitally important to every community in this county. And it will create high paying jobs for citizens."
Because the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians already operates a casino the tribe's existing gaming compact with the state would need to be amended.
Besides a casino the project would include a 220-room hotel.
Opposition to the Fruitport Township casino project is mostly from the east side of the state where all three Detroit casinos, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, and Detroit City Council have all made their objections public. Leaders from three other Michigan tribes have also voiced opposition to a casino in Muskegon County.
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