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Tribe buys Lansing land for casino, legal challenges loom

An Upper Peninsula Native American tribe has signed a deal to purchase land next to Lansing’s downtown convention center.

The purchase is expected to intensify a legal fight over plans to build a casino on the site.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is buying the land from the city of Lansing.   The tribe plans to build a temporary casino on the site.   Eventually, the tribe wants to build a $245 million permanent casino that would wrap around Lansing’s convention center.

A coalition of other casino owning tribes oppose the Lansing project.    James Nye, a spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, issued this statement before the land sale agreement was signed this morning in Lansing:

“For over a decade, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe has unsuccessfully pursued off-reservation casinos hundreds of miles from its reservation. These efforts have been rejected by the U.S. Congress, the State of Michigan, and the U.S. Department of Interior.

“We will continue to aggressively fight this ill-conceived casino at the federal and state level, and in the courts. We are very confident that this effort will fail just like the Tribe’s past efforts.”

Sault Sainte Marie Tribal chairman Aaron Payment acknowledges the opposition is


“I don’t fault them for trying to protect their market and their interests. But we have to do what’s best for our people in this area,” says Payment.

But opposition from other Native American tribes is not the most immediate threat to the Lansing casino project. 

Michigan’s Attorney General filed suit last month to stop the federal government from taking the land into trust.   The land must be taken into trust by the U.S. Department of the Interior first, before the tribe can move forward with its plans for a casino. 

John Wernet is the tribe’s general counsel. He says the tribe will file its response to that lawsuit this month.

“I’m hoping that within a few weeks…we can have that resolved….and we would immediately move forward with our trust application,” says Wernet.

If the casino project survives this legal hurdle, there are more to come.

Wernet says the legal process may take a few years to complete.

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero says a downtown casino could transform the downtown area into a major entertainment district.   Some revenues from a casino would also be used for college scholarships for Lansing school children.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.