Michigan Governor Asks Court To Toss Lawsuit

The Bay Mills Indian Community has sued Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for a declaration that its land in Vanderbilt, Michigan, site of its closed casino, is “Indian lands” because it was purchased with settlement funds. Snyder wants the suit thrown out. Meanwhile the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe asked to join the lawsuit.

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently asked a federal court to throw out the Bay Mills Indian Community’s lawsuit seeking to establish that it can operate a casino off its reservation because it purchased the land with money from the Michigan Indian Land Claim Settlement Act. Snyder moved for a summary judgment in the case, claiming the 1997 federal law did not necessarily allow the tribe to conduct gambling on the land.

Snyder said, “MILCSA does not automatically grant a legal status to lands purchased with funds from the Bay Mills Land Trust that preempts state gaming laws. Rather, that property and the activities on it remain fully subject to the nondiscriminatory state laws that prohibit a casino and gaming from being operated in that location.”

The tribe has asked for a declaration that the Vanderbilt casino parcel is “Indian lands” as defined in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The small, 84-slot Bay Mills Vanderbilt Casino opened in November 2010, but in March 2011 it was forced to close after Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an injunction against the tribe. In April 2011, the Bay Mills tribe asked the federal court of appeals in an effort to overturn the injunction. In August 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of Bay Mills, vacating the injunction and paving the way for the casino to reopen. But in October 2012, Schuette asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In December 2013 the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case and in May 2014 ruled the state can’t sue to stop American Indian tribes from opening and operating casinos on land they own off their reservation. The current case is Bay Mills Indian Community v. Snyder in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Last November, Ed Posgate, then Vanderbilt Village president, said he had met with Bay Mills officials who told him they were planning to reopen the former casino. “They said ‘we’re closer to opening,’ but no one’s given a date,” Posgate said. He and other residents said new gravel work and tree trimming had been done on the former casino’s grounds in late 2016.

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which operates its own casinos in the state, recently filed for a motion to join the litigation. Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Interim Public Relations Director Erik Rodriguez said the tribe heard from the National Indian Gaming Commission that the Bay Mills tribe and Snyder may be reaching a settlement. “This is a concern to us because a settlement would create basically a new category of lands and not stay within those statutes that hold a federal regulatory framework under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Bay Mills is trying to put a casino in Vanderbilt or somewhere else in the state that is not within the framework within the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Rodriguez said.

He added the reopening of the Bay Mills former Vanderbilt casino could potentially allow other tribes to start off-reservation gaming in areas outside of tribes’ original territories. “If that’s what they’re trying to reopen, that would not adhere to these lands and it would not be a federal or state regulatory oversighted operation, meaning that it couldn’t be protected by gaming laws by the state or federal level, which would be obviously a safety concern to all the patrons that utilize that,” Rodriguez said.

Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt casino remains closed.

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