Complexities of tribal gaming play out in Michigan

  • The US Department of Interior denied two requests from a tribe to change the classification of off-reservation land into trust to allow for a casino
  • The Sault Ste. Marie tribe has vowed to continue fighting for the right to expand

Punters visiting the United States may be surprised to find that a dichotomy exists in the American casino market. That is, the land-based casino space is occupied by primarily two types of operators: tribal (Native American) governments (such as the Mohegan Tribe of the Mohegan Sun) and by commercial companies (ie. Sands Corp. of the Las Vegas Sands.)

The system in place is a direct result of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which established a jurisdictional framework for tribes and states to follow when regulating gambling across the United States.

Nearly thirty years since its passage, tribes and governments are still testing the law.

Two applications rejected

The Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan had two applications rejected by the Department of Interior when it requested to move two parcels of land from its private holdings into trust with the federal government for gaming.

As it was written, IGRA stipulates certain conditions under which Indian gaming could occur. Among other accomplishments of the law, IGRA established that in order for a tribe to game on land that was acquired after the passage of IGRA, it would have to meet certain conditions.

Some of those conditions include proximity or contiguity to its existing reservation and historical ties to the land.

Several neighboring gaming tribes have spoken out against the Sault St. Marie tribe and have praised the DOI for rejecting the tribe’s requests. The opposing tribes claim that Sault St. Marie is essentially ‘shopping’ the state for reservations.

Deeply disappointed in the DOI’s decision

Jamie Stuck, Chair of the Notawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indian sought to clarify in a press release issued July 28: “The Interior Department’s decision rejecting the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe’s efforts to establish reservations for the purpose of building casinos more than 300 miles away from their homelands was the right one for Michigan citizens […] One of the gaming compact provisions requires tribes to obtain written agreements amongst all the state’s tribes in order to pursue off-reservation casinos. The Sault Tribe has never attempted to address this reasonable provision.”

In response to the denial, Aaron Payment, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribal chairperson released a statement vowing to continue the fight: “We are deeply disappointed in the U.S. DOI’s decision to deny our mandatory trust land petitions for Lansing and Romulus, largely because it is based on a flawed legal analysis […] We have no intention of giving up, and we will soon determine which option — legal, administrative or legislative — we will pursue to continue our fight for our legal rights.”

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