Whitmer Rejects Little River’s Proposal For Off-Reservation Casino In Muskegon Area

Written By Drew Ellis on June 15, 2022
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

The proposal for an off-reservation casino by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Fruitport Township has been rejected.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the decision on Wednesday, one day prior to the June 16 deadline, in a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

After being denied a further deadline than the six months she was already given, Whitmer stated she felt she was in an “impossible position.”

A proposed plan for a $180 million casino and hotel that has been in the works since 2008 has now been put to a grinding halt.

Lack of Grand River determination causes Whitmer to decline

Gov. Whitmer issued a statement Wednesday afternoon that included the following:

“Today, after the U.S. Department of the Interior refused to extend a critical deadline for this decision or offer information on a separate tribal recognition decision currently pending before the Department, I am communicating my non-concurrence on the Little River Band of Ottawa Indian’s proposal to open an off-reservation casino in Fruitport Township.”

Whitmer is referring to an Oct. 12 deadline for the federal government to recognize the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians as a tribe. This is something Grand River Bands has been pursuing since 1994.

Should that happen, Grand River Bands would be entitled to land in the vicinity of where Little River was planning to build their new hotel and casino.

Whitmer was expected to make a decision on this proposed casino on Dec. 16, but was granted an 180-day extension.

She was pressing the Department of Interior to make a judgement on Grand River Bands prior to Oct. 12, or give her a longer extension. The longer extension was denied and no decision has been made on the status of Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians.

“Despite my request, the Department of Interior did not move the June 16 deadline for this decision. I asked for additional time so the Department could do their part and give me information I needed to make this important decision,” Whitmer said. “The Department of Interior first needs to decide whether they are providing federal recognition for the neighboring Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. It is critical to have this information before making an informed decision.”

Little River disappointed by decision

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Omega Larry Romanelli was informed of the decision prior to Whitmer releasing the letter, according to FOX 17 West Michigan.

Romanelli called the decision “disappointing” and felt Whitmer made her decision based on “totally wrong information.”

Whitmer acknowledged the tribe in her statement, noting the strong local support the proposal had.

“I realize that this non-concurrence is disappointing to the Little River Band and to supporters in the local community, and I am mindful of the significant amount of time and investment that went into this proposal,” she said.

Little River needed approval from Whitmer, as the casino in Fruitport Township was not on their tribal grounds. Despite opposition from other tribal casino operators in the state, as well as Detroit and Wayne County, Whitmer was the final hurdle for Little River to clear.

The proposal called for 3,000 new jobs to the Muskegon area, with 1,500 of them being permanent. State Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon) released a statement on Whitmer’s decision.

“Today is a sad day for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Muskegon residents and those of the surrounding area as their governor regrettably chose to deny a longsuffering casino project that had virtually unanimous support from here all the way to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “With this casino project, Gov. Whitmer solely had the opportunity to create 3,000 good-paying jobs with a simple stroke of her pen, and it would not have cost taxpayers one cent. It would seem as though she would rather spend hardworking people’s money than help them earn it.”

Photo by Associated Press
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of Playinmichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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