facebook app symbol  twitter  linkedin  instagram 1

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Tribal Business News. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

FRUITPORT TWP., Mich. — The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has reached a critical milestone in the more than a decade long process to develop a $180 million casino in West Michigan. 

The tribe’s second casino is proposed for a former horse racing track in Muskegon, Mich., about 95 miles south of the existing Little River Casino Resort near Manistee. 

The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs will announce plans to file a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the tribe’s request for the federal government to take into trust 60 acres of land at the former Great Lakes Downs horse track. The BIA’s announcement in the Federal Register then kicks off a 30-day public comment period, after which the government will issue a final decision in the application. 

With the publication, the tribe will take one step closer to having the federal government take the former Great Lakes Downs horse track location into trust, removing a critical hurdle for the project. If the federal government approves and takes the land into trust for the tribe, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians would then need to seek state approval for its casino plans.

For Larry Romanelli, the ogema or elected leader of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the step marks a significant milestone. 

“This was 80 percent of what had to be done — it’s huge in my opinion,” Romanelli said. “When we started, we hoped for a process that was five to six years, and now we’re past 10. But now we’re at a point where we have more control over that as well.”

Romanelli envisions the remaining process to get a casino up and running will take three years at the longest, assuming the approval process moves ahead in the tribe’s favor. Under certain best-case circumstances, the tribe could also shorten that time frame, Romanelli said, declining to speculate on particulars of that scenario. 

For the Environmental Impact Statement, the BIA considered the potential effects on the environment for the proposed casino development, ranging from land use, geology and water resources to agricultural, biological and cultural considerations.

The tribe purchased the horse track in 2008 to develop a second casino in addition to its resort complex north of Manistee. The proposed 69,000-square-foot Fruitport Township facility would include 1,700 slot machines, 35 table games, a 220-room hotel, and event and conference space, as well as dining and entertainment areas. 

The Muskegon area is a part of the tribe’s ancestral lands and currently home to the largest population of tribal citizens in its service area. The tribe also maintains government offices in the area.  

In some ways, Romanelli said the timing of the process could prove beneficial for the casino project, which can now incorporate best practices around air filtration and spacing that have been learned during the pandemic. 

He added that he’s been buoyed by the community’s support for the tribe and the casino project over the long process. 


“We’ve been ready for a long time,” Romanelli said. “We’re absolutely ready for this now, and West Michigan is ready for this as well. It’s a long time coming, and we’re still not done yet.”

More Stories Like This

American Basketball Association Announces Native ABA Initiative
Four Winds South Bend Upgrades to Class III Gaming Casino
Native News Online Wins Two Awards from Native American Journalists Association
Wahlberg Brothers Are a Big Hit at Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention in Las Vegas
Native Gro Offers Tribes a ‘One-Stop Shop’ for Entering the Cannabis Industry

These stories must be heard.

This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Joe Boomgaard
Author: Joe BoomgaardEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Joe Boomgaard is the editor of Michigan-based regional business publication MiBiz and a contributing writer to Native News Online on business, economic development and related topics. He can be reached at [email protected].