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Howard Stutz

Ground broken on Michigan casino

21 September 2009

WAYLAND, Michigan -- A decade after initiating the idea and five years after Las Vegas-based Station Casinos became involved, a Michigan Indian tribe is a step closer to opening a gambling hall some 20 minutes outside the state's second-largest city.

Ground was broken Thursday for the $157 million Gun Lake Casino, which will be owned by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians and operated by a Station Casinos affiliate under a management contract. Station Casinos operates the Thunder Valley Casino near Sacramento, Calif., for the United Auburn tribe.

The initial phase of Gun Lake, an 83,000-square-foot facility with 1,200 slot machines, 36 table games and bar and entertainment lounge, one restaurant and a three-outlet food court, could be open within a year.

The casino is expected to initially employ 600 workers. Under agreements with the state of Michigan and local governments, the tribe will participate in a revenue-share program.

The casino is about 22 miles south of Grand Rapids, which has a population of 800,000, and 25 miles north of Kalamazoo.

The Gun Lake project was scaled back form its original plans because of the recession. However, tribal leaders said the casino would eventually be expanded.

"Given the current economic conditions, it makes sense for us to build this project in phases," Tribal Chairman D.K. Sprague said. "This will allow us to bring jobs to our area sooner, and we look forward to planning and developing the next phase as the economy recovers."

Station Casinos, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August, funded roughly $56 million of the casino's development costs. The gaming company will be repaid with interest once the casino opens, and will earn a 30 percent management fee on the Gun Lake Casino gaming revenues.

"We always wish these would come to fruition more quickly," Scott Nielson, chief development officer for Station Casinos said Friday. "I said yesterday these projects require money and patience. We just didn't know how much of each it would take."

Groundbreaking took place less than a month after the U.S. Department of Interior's Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs signed a proclamation officially declaring the existence of the tribe's 147-acre reservation.