An Upper Peninsula Indian tribe has taken a major step toward building a casino in Lansing.
The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Tuesday formally asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to take land surrounding Lansing’s downtown convention center into trust.
The tribe bought the land for a $245 million casino. But before the casino can be built, the federal government must first take the land into trust.
Tribal officials say the Interior Department could act on the request in a few weeks.
The Sault Ste. Marie tribe is also looking at a 71-acre property near Detroit Metro Airport for a future gaming location. The tribe is conducting an economic impact study of the property.
Tribal officials say the 1997 Michigan Land Claims Settlement Act (MILCSA) requires the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to approve the trust land applications.
“It is a clear, plain-language legal argument," said Aaron Payment, the Sault Tribe chairperson. "Our tribe is within federal law and our legal rights to pursue these opportunities to create thousands of new jobs and generate millions of dollars in new revenues that will benefit our members, the people of Lansing … and the entire state.”
But there are those who disagree.
“Not only does this proposal violate the tribal-state gaming compacts, but it also would blow a hole in Detroit’s bankruptcy plan,” says James Nye, spokesman for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. He's referring to the fact that Detroit relies on taxes from its three casinos, and any new competition from casinos located outside the city would threaten that revenue stream
The Sault tribe and the state of Michigan have been locked in a legal battle over the proposed casino project.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state in a similar case involving another tribe trying to operate a casino on previously non-tribal land. The state then dropped its appeal in the Lansing casino case.
State officials plan to continue their legal fight against both casinos.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero issued a statement calling the filing with the U.S. Interior Department a "significant hurdle."
"There will no doubt be additional challenges to the project, but we remain confident that we will succeed," says Bernero.