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Arnold M. Knightly

Ruling favors Station Casinos in casino bid

3 March 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A recent court decision could clear the way for a local gaming operator to manage its second American Indian casino.

U.S. District Court Judge Garrett Penn in Washington, D.C., last week dismissed a case brought by anti-gaming lobbying group Michigan Gambling Opposition. The group, also known as MichGO, was trying to prevent the Gun Lake Tribe from opening a casino about 25 miles north of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Station Casinos signed a contract in 2003 to help the tribe secure financing for the project and manage the casino for seven years once the property opens. In return for managing the casino, the Las Vegas gaming company would get a fee of 24 percent of the gaming revenue.

"It is a huge step for the tribe," Station Casinos Chief Development Officer Scott Nielson said. "We're excited about the court's decision and look forward to getting started with the project."

Station Casino now manages one tribal casino in California, the Thunder Valley near Sacramento, and has three more in development.

The Gun Lake Tribe plans to convert an existing warehouse and factory into a 193,424-square-foot resort with restaurants, shops and office space and an entertainment area. The casino would be nearly 99,000 square feet.

Tribal representatives couldn't be reached to comment on the ruling Wednesday.

The lawsuit challenged the casino project on four main issues, ranging from the need for a more in-depth environmental impact study of the area around the proposed casino site to challenging the location of the reservation designation.

The dismissal clears the way for the Department of Interior, which was co-defendant in the lawsuit, to take 146 acres in southern Michigan into trust for the tribe as early as next week.

The anti-gaming group plans to appeal the decision this week. But without an injunction, preconstruction could begin in the next couple of months and the casino could open in summer 2008.

The Gun Lake Tribe, also known as the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, is seeking a gaming compact with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. If successful, it would be the first such compact in Michigan since 1998.

MichGO President Todd Boorsma said the group opposes the Gun Lake Tribe casino mainly because the federal government has not addressed the social and economic impacts a casino would bring to the region.

Michigan has 17 American Indian casinos owned by nine different tribes, with another property scheduled to open later this year. Only one other tribe now has a Tribal-State Gaming Compact.

"This isn't a travel destination like Vegas," said Boorsma of the possible social impact on the surrounding community. "This is access for people who live here and work here to pop in on their lunch hour and after work."

Michigan American Indian casinos, which include 14,450 slots statewide, generated $983 million in gaming revenue in 2005 and could hit the billion-dollar mark in the near future, Eric Busch of the Michigan Gaming Control Board said.

Boorsma argues that the money generated by the casinos, which only the American Indians are allowed to own, hurts the surrounding area's "economic flavor" by taking business from surrounding downtowns and diverting it to a small group of people.

"We're the Vegas of the north over here," Boorsma said. "It's getting ridiculous, it's getting out of hand. It's hurting our economy."

Ruling favors Station Casinos in casino bid is republished from