Whitmer rejects $180M off-reservation casino near Muskegon

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rejected a proposal for a $180 million off-reservation casino in western Michigan that a tribe has been working toward for over a decade.

Whitmer’s rejection of the proposal Wednesday came after the U.S. Department of Interior rejected her request to postpone her deadline for deciding whether to allow the project to proceed.

Whitmer wrote in a letter to the U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that the department had put her in an "impossible position" and that she had been left without "information critical to my decision."

The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians had hoped to build the casino on an 87-acre lot near Muskegon that the tribe bought in 2008. Because the site isn’t on the tribe’s reservation, the casino needed federal and state approval. The Interior Department gave its approval in December 2020.

Whitmer asked the department in May to decide by Thursday whether a neighboring tribe, the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, would be granted federal acknowledgement or to extend the state’s deadline for deciding on the casino proposal. The Grand River Bands have opposed the proposed casino.

"Despite my best efforts to get answers from DOI with respect to the pending Grand River Bands’ acknowledgment petition, I am left without information critical to my decision on the Little River Band’s two-part determination," Whitmer wrote.

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Whitmer added that once a decision had been made on Grand River Bands’ acknowledgement petition, she would "welcome the opportunity to revisit this question."

Larry Romanelli, the leader of the Little River Band, said the tribe was "absolutely devastated" by the decision and that it had "met all the criteria required for approval."