08 November 2010

New Casino Opening catches many off Guard

The Detroit Free Press

A new casino that opened quickly in northern Michigan is raising questions about state and federal authority to regulate Indian gaming.

The Bay Mills Resort Casino opened Wednesday in Vanderbilt, 8 miles north of Gaylord, catching many people by surprise. The news carried extra weight when Port Huron City Manager Bruce Brown told the Times Herald newspaper that the Bay Mills Indian Community recently had purchased 16 acres along the St. Clair River, where the tribe long has sought to build a casino.

"This has not been the traditional way for approval, and they have a legal theory they are leaning on," said Rick Kalm, executive director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. If the theory that a casino can be opened without the normal approval process holds up, "the impact would be huge. There are so many groups vying to expand casino gaming."

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians recently purchased land near Pinnacle Race Course in Huron Township in western Wayne County. Gaming facilities there or in Port Huron would compete directly for local customers with Detroit's three casinos, which count on exclusivity to fuel their business. The Detroit casinos are an important source of revenue for the City of Detroit.

State officials plan to meet with Bay Mills tribal leaders by next week to discuss the move, attorney general spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.

Tribal officials couldn't be reached Thursday but in a story in the tribal paper, www.baymillsnews.com, tribal chairman Jeff Parker announced the opening.

"This is something we've been working on for a long time."

Officials from other tribes with casinos in northern Michigan were angry.

"We believe this is an illegal operation," said Ken Harrington, chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, which operates a casino near Petoskey. "No approvals or applications were obtained or submitted, and this is off their reservation."

The Vanderbilt casino opened in a former nature center attached to the TreeTops resort complex.

"We knew that something was going on," said Vanderbilt Village President Edward Posgate. "Frankly, we were hoping it was a casino" because of economic spin-off.

Posgate said the building has 38 slot machines and offers customers free pop, coffee and hot chocolate.

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