Sault Tribe confident of victory in off-reservation gaming case

Artist's rendering of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino in Lansing, Michigan. Image from Sault Tribe

A federal judge heard arguments on Wednesday in an off-reservation gaming dispute between the Sault Tribe Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the state of Michigan.

The state sued the tribe for merely proposing the $245 million Kewadin Lansing Casino in Lansing. In December 2013, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that the tribe can't sued without its consent.

The state then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. But before the justices got to the petition, they issued a decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community that protected the Bay Mills Indian Community from being sued for operating an off-reservation casino.

The ruling prompted the state to withdraw its petition and, as part of a joint motion with the tribe, to seek the dismissal of the claims against the tribal government itself. Judge Robert Jonker agreed and removed the tribe in a December 2014 decision.

The state now hopes to proceed by suing individual tribal officials. Judge Jonker considered the arguments yesterday, The Lansing State Journal reported.

"We remain committed to it and intend to do everything we have to do to stand up against the opposition,” John Wernet, the tribe’s lawyer, told the paper. “We look forward to being successful — however long it takes.”

An aerial view of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino in Lansing, Michigan. Image from Sault Tribe

The tribe has submitted a land-into-trust application for Kewadin Lansing and another for a proposed casino in Huron Charter Township. Both sites were purchased in connection with the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.

The tribe believes that the law mandates the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in trust. The agency, however, has yet to make a decision on either application.

Generally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars gaming on land acquired after 1988. But Section 20 of the law contains an exception for tribes with land claim settlements.

The exception has been used sparingly. In the history of IGRA, only the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma has opened a casino on land taken into trust in connection with a land claim settlement.

Get the Story:
Bold Kewadin Lansing Casino plan awaits judge’s ruling (The Lansing State Journal 6/18)

Related Stories
Judge removes Sault Tribe from off-reservation gaming lawsuit (12/08)
Supreme Court ruling bodes well for tribes in gaming cases (11/11)
Aaron Payment: Story missed the boat on Soo Tribe gaming bid (08/18)
Editorial: Put a stop to off-reservation gaming plans in Michigan (08/15)
6th Circuit sides with Sault Tribe in commercial casino dispute (08/04)
Michigan drops appeal in Soo Tribe off-reservation casino case (06/04)

Join the Conversation