Supreme Court to consider closure of state casino

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider what power, if any, the state has to shut down an American Indian casino in northern Michigan in a case that could have implications for other tribal casino projects in the state.

The Bay Mills Indian Community opened a casino in late 2010 in Vanderbilt in the northern Lower Peninsula about 90 miles south of its Upper Peninsula reservation.

It bought the land with interest earnings from a settlement with the federal government over allegations that it had been inadequately compensated for land ceded in 1800s treaties.

The 1997 federal law distributing money to Bay Mills and four other Michigan tribes says land acquired with interest income by Bay Mills “shall be held as Indian lands are held.”

Michigan argues that the tribe opened the casino without permission from the U.S. government and in violation of a state compact.

A federal judge in March 2011 ordered the casino and its 84 slot machines closed pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the state.

In August 2012, a federal appeals court ruled the district court had no jurisdiction to shut down the casino and that the tribe had sovereign immunity.

The high court decided to hear oral arguments against the wishes of the federal government.

“Today’s ruling sets the stage for an important discussion about the states’ ability to halt the unrestrained expansion of off-reservation tribal casino gambling,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “We look forward to making our case before the nation’s highest court this fall.”

The Bay Mills tribe operates two casinos on its reservation in Brimley about 40 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge.

It used settlement interest to also buy land in Port Huron and Flint Township — and observers are watching what is seen as a test case on the extent to which tribes can open casinos with little or no clearance from the government.

Bay Mills Tribal Chairman Kurt Perron said the tribe is “deeply concerned” the justices agreed to hear the dispute “as it is in any case where it appears the court may examine the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity. We remain confident that the nation’s highest court will agree with our position.”

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which operates a casino just 30 miles from the shuttered Vanderbilt casino, also sued to force its closure. It is not participating in the appeal.

A similar clash between tribes is ongoing in the Lansing region.

The U.P.’s Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians bought land 260 miles away in Lansing for a $245 million casino.

A federal judge in March halted the project after a suit was filed by Schuette with support from tribes operating casinos in Mount Pleasant and Battle Creek.