For several years, interest groups in the city of Lansing, Michigan have been arguing over whether a new tribal casino should be allowed to set up shop in the town. At the end of May, a Supreme Court ruling opened doors for those who hope to see Lansing get a casino. By a margin of 5-4, the court determined that the state cannot sue the Bay Mills Indian Community for operating a casino on non-tribal land. Because Lansing is non-tribal land, this ruling could be just the legal event casino supporters need to help Michigan's capital city get its gambling hall.
Back Story: The Bay Mills Casino Saga
The story behind the court's recent ruling began in 1997, when the Bay Mills tribe received funds from the state of Michigan to set up a land trust. The cash was awarded to help ameliorate past injustices suffered by the tribe at the hands of Americans. The tribe, which resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, used the funds to purchase land in the lower peninsula town of Vanderbilt. There, in 2010, it established the Bay Mills Casino, a tiny gambling house with only 84 slot machines.
In 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Bay Mills tribe had unlawfully opened a casino on non-tribal land. It looked, at that time, as if the Bay Mills Casino of Vanderbilt was doomed for closure. A hot debate ensued because, while the land in Vanderbilt was not original tribal land, it had been lawfully purchased by a tribe using government-granted money.
After much argument, the 2011 decision to close the Bay Mills Casino of Vanderbilt was reversed in 2012. The small facility continues to operate today. The question as to whether another casino could be built by a tribe on non-tribal land in Michigan has been hanging in the air ever since this issue came about.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
Some people have asked why the State of Michigan would give the Bay Mills tribe money for a land trust, then turn around and try to control what the group could do with their land. The state's reasoning: They felt it was illegal for the tribe to open and operate a casino on non-tribal land based on rules set forth in 1988 by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA.
The IGRA aims to control the administration of tribal gambling and establish crystal-clear rules as to how the industry can operate. Casino games are legal via the act if the state is consulted first and certain gaming ordinances are adopted. The State of Michigan maintains that the Bay Mills tribe did not follow the IGRA to a tee when setting up the Bay Mills Vanderbilt casino.
The IGRA is a national law, not a state law. Michigan politicians felt the Vanderbilt tribal facility violated the US law, though not necessarily the state law. When a complicated juxtaposition such as this happens in the states, there are often more questions than answers. For now, the Vanderbilt casino continues to operate and thrive. The question as to whether other tribal casinos in Michigan, such as the one proposed for Lansing, can exist on non-tribal land remains unanswered.
Michigan Can't Legally Sue a Tribe
The recent ruling that Michigan cannot lawfully sue a tribe has given the “green light” to the construction of a Lansing casino, according to Mayor Virg Bernero. Bernero told reporters he is excited about the possibility of a new gambling facility in Lansing. He says the opening of such a structure would benefit the struggling city's job landscape and economic well-being, along with a special Lansing Public School program called The Lansing Promise.
The Lansing Promise
This program grants qualifying students free tuition for two years of study at either Michigan State University or Lansing Community College. Before a student can receive this astounding benefit, he or she must have exhausted all other financial aid possibilities. Long-term residency in the town must also be proven before the scholarship can be awarded.
Up until now, private charity groups have been funding the Lansing Promise. Casino revenue would only enhance the program, enabling it to offer benefits beyond the two years of free tuition. Chairman Kellie Dean said that if the promise received “additional support . . . there is so much more that we would be able to do for our Lansing kids.”
Similar arguments have recently been made in New York, where the addition of seven new casinos was approved on the ballot last November (read more). Much of the New York casino revenue is slated to go toward public school funding in that state. One of the major arguments for casino expansion in any of the 50 states is education funding, in fact.
Another casino in Michigan recently made headlines for its contribution to regional public education. The Soaring Eagle Casino of Mt. Pleasant donated $2 million to area public schools. The Chippewa Tribe of Saginaw was behind the donation, which will benefit students at public schools in Mt. Pleasant, Shepherd, and Deerfield Township.
Casino Opponents in Lansing
Naysayers don't want a casino in Lansing because of the usual fears: Increased crime and increased problem gambling. Michael Burke of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling proposes that, at the very least, the city get some sort of help system in place before opening a new gambling hall. A similar type of help system was built in Louisiana with positive results, according to Burke.
Proposed Facility: The Kewadin Lansing
If it gets approved, the casino will be called the Kewadin Lansing. The project would cost nearly $250 million to build and would afford jobs to over 2,000 people. Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, opposes the construction of the facility, and so does Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. In spite of these oppositions, it looks right now as if Lansing stands a good chance of getting its off-reservation casino in the near future.