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Michigan's Tribal Gaming Industry Continues to Grow

12 December 2001

During the past year, the three Detroit casinos have demonstrated the power of casinos to stimulate the economy by creating thousands of jobs and bringing in millions of dollars for the community. Although the Detroit experience is still relatively new, Michigan's tribal casinos dotting small town landscapes throughout the state have been proving the value of gaming for several years now. Many of these tribal facilities began as high-stakes bingo parlors or small-time gambling houses and have evolved into some of the premier vacation destinations in the mid-west. The number of tribal casinos in Michigan has consistently grown, yet without running the market into the ground. With growing competition by other tribal casinos and the three Detroit facilities, each not only survives, but in fact thrives. The number of slot machines and table games at various casinos has grown over the years, and this week alone, three casinos announced plans to expand dramatically. Not only should these casinos be considered a welcome form of entertainment for Michigan residents and non-residents alike, but they are a credible and prosperous business for our state's Native American residents.

Tribal gaming began in Michigan in the early 1980's. The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in the Upper Peninsula town of Baraga, Michigan, which is near Marquette, began operating a high-stakes bingo game. Throughout the late 1980's and the early 1990s Michigan tribes negotiated with the state to enter into Gaming Compacts in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. Tribal gaming was first legalized in 1993 when Michigan entered Class III Gaming Compacts with seven tribes. This occurred three years before Proposal E was ratified, allowing for private casinos in Detroit, and six years before Detroit's first temporary casino opened its doors for business. In 1998, the state entered into Class III Compacts with four additional tribes. Today the tribal gaming facilities have become much more than casinos. Restaurants, recreational vehicle parks, hotels, convention centers, auditoriums and amphitheaters are some of the features of Michigan's growing tribal gaming industry.

Last week the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians announced that it will expand the Leelanau Sands Casino Resort in Suttons Bay and the Turtle Creek Casino Resort in Williamsburg, both near Traverse City. The expansion at Leelanau Sands includes a 200-site recreational vehicle park and a 50-room hotel, which is already under construction. Groundbreaking for the expansion of Turtle Creek is slated for March 1, 2002, and plans include a 10,000 seat amphitheater, a water tower, several new restaurants, and a 350-room hotel. Also this year, Turtle Creek will expand its gaming space by 55 percent. With the announcement of these additions came the declaration that the two casino resort complexes will undergo a name change and will now be known as "Traverse Bay Entertainment." Changes to the appearance of these casinos will only be one aspect of their evolution. Changes in the way the tribe conducts business and interacts with its employees are expected, as well. The tribe is discussing a 28-hour, three day work week for its employees with the hopes that it will promote a more content, less stressed employee. According to Chief Executive Officer Jeff Livingston, the goal would be to have employees feeling like they are putting on a performance as opposed to going to work. The hope is that happy, energetic employees will improve the customers' experience at the casino, making them feel like they experienced something special. Many programs will be introduced soon in an effort to improve business and boost employee morale.

Also last week, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, one of the three tribes that entered into a compact with the state in 1998, announced that the Little River Casino in Manistee will be expanding. Although it has only been open since July 1999, the casino has had much success and hopes to enjoy more with the addition of a 100-room hotel, three restaurants, and a convention center. The tribe hopes these new facilities will be open by next May or June. This past May, the casino added a 46-site recreational vehicle park. The hope is that the RV park, the hotel, and the convention center will keep visitors in Manistee overnight. At present, most patrons travel to the casino from an hour or two away, only to drive home again the same night. The addition of lodging facilities should allow for more travelers to stay on-site at the casino, as well as attract visitors from further than an hour or two away. This expansion will not only keep patrons in town longer, stimulating local economy, but the tribe will employ 200 more people. Currently, the tribe employs over 500 people and is Manistee's largest employer.

Opening in 1990 as a simple bingo parlor, the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant has become Michigan's mecca of tribal gaming. The casino opened its doors in 1993 with entry into a gaming compact with the state and has consistently grown over the years to arrive at its self-proclaimed current status as, "Michigan's only 4 diamond casino and resort." In 1998 the casino added and opened its 512 room hotel. Soaring Eagle also boasts five restaurants, a concert hall, a convention center, and more. Also increasing regularly is the amount of games offered. The casino currently offers 4,305 slot machines and 95 table games all situated in 205,000 square feet of gaming space.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com