Editorial: Courts should uphold limits on Indian casinos

If the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians gets its way, two new casinos will be constructed in southeast Michigan — in Lansing and in Huron Township, near Detroit Metro Airport.

Meanwhile, the Bay Mills Indian Tribe wants to reopen its closed facility near Vanderbilt in northern Michigan’s Otsego County and establish new casinos near Flint and Port Huron.

The gambling venues clearly sidestep current regulations and would come at the expense of present casinos in a gambling market that has become saturated. Revenue has already fallen at the Detroit casinos with the introduction of gaming to neighboring Ohio.

Also, it would set a precedent that could open the door for other Indian tribes to open a virtually unlimited number of casinos in the state.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed lawsuits in federal court to stop the tribes’ efforts to construct and operate new gaming houses.

The first lawsuit against the Bay Mills tribe has temporarily shut down the Vanderbilt casino. A separate action seeks to halt the Lansing and Huron Township venues.

In both cases, Schuette contends the tribes are violating a gaming pact with the state and other tribes.

Schuette argues the tribes are trying to establish new casinos without a revenue sharing agreement with the state and other tribes.

Also, Indian gaming is supposed to be restricted to their home reservations. The new casinos would be several hundred miles away from existent tribal reservations.

Other Indian tribes also oppose the Sault and Bay Mills plans. Two tribes, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, have joined the attorney general’s lawsuits.

James Nye, who represents the Nottawaseppi and Saginaw tribes, says the Sault and Bay Mills tribes are perverting a 1997 federal law that established a trust fund for Native American tribes to buy land on their reservation or property adjacent to it.

The law, as noted by former U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, one of its authors, was not intended to allow Indian tribes to expand their casino operations to off-reservation sites.

But the Sault and Bay Mills tribes have used trust fund money to buy off-reservation property.

“It’s a gross manipulation of federal law and one that should alarm all Michigan residents and the federal government,” Nye says. “Tribes should be doing gaming on their own original lands.”

Because trust funds are involved, the Sault tribe has filed two applications with the U.S. Department of Interior for approval of the Lansing and Huron Township casinos. The department should reject the applications.

Michigan has 26 casinos — three in Detroit and 23 others owned and operated by Indian tribes. The state doesn’t need more casinos, especially off-reservation. They will only siphon profits from existing gaming facilities, particularly the Detroit venues. An estimated $11 million to $15 million a month is anticipated in tax revenue from these casinos as part of the city’s bankruptcy plans. Competition in Huron Township facility would reduce those numbers.

As Nye notes, if the Sault and Bay Mills venues are approved, it would open the door to even more off-reservation casinos. That’s commercial gaming, not Indian gaming.

The Department of the Interior and the courts should see the inherent dangers and reject the efforts to build these off-reservation casinos.