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Federal judge sides with tribe trying to build Lansing casino

Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

A federal judge has given an Upper Peninsula Indian tribe a legal victory in its effort to open a casino in Michigan’s state capitol.

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians announced plans in 2012 to build a quarter-billion dollar casino next to Lansing’s downtown convention center. The tribe is also looking at opening another casino in Huron Township. 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed suit to block the tribe’s plans to ask the U.S. Department of the Interior to put the land into trust for the tribe.   

But U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker this week tossed the attorney general’s lawsuit. The judge ruled the tribe did nothing wrong by requesting the land be placed into trust.  

Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment celebrated the judge’s ruling. 

“The ruling is a clear signal that the Sault Tribe is within our rights to pursue the casinos, which will create thousands of good jobs for mid-Michigan and southeast Michigan, and millions of dollars in new revenues for the two regions and the entire state,” says Payment.

Governor Rick Snyder's office says it's conferring with the attorney general to determine their next steps.

"We continue to believe that the tribe’s unprecedented efforts to open a casino located hundreds of miles from its reservation is a violation of our mutual Tribal-State Gaming Compact, establishes a dangerous precedent, and poses serious consequences for the state and other Indian tribes within Michigan," says Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Gov. Snyder.

Lansing Mayor Bernero welcomed the court’s ruling.

“Today’s ruling reaffirms that right and represents another significant step along the path to success, which will bring thousands of good-paying jobs to Lansing,” says Bernero. 

The ruling is a victory for the tribe, but it’s not the end.

The tribe’s request to place the land into trust is still awaiting a decision by the U.S. Interior department.  

More litigation by the state and other Native American tribes in Michigan is also expected. 

It will likely be years before the dice start rolling in Lansing, if the planned Lansing casino ever opens.  

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.
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