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Indians hope to open casino at Mich's Pinnacle

January 06, 2011

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The Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which last year purchased seven acres of land adjacent to the Pinnacle Thoroughbred Race Course in Romulus, Mich., has announced plans to build a casino at that site. If built, the tribe would be defying state and federal gaming laws as it would not have gained any such approval.

Pinnacle, which purchased the land it sits on near the greater Detroit area’s Metropolitan Airport for $1 from the city of Romulus, sold the parcel of land to the Chippewa tribe last summer for numbers reported to be in the vicinity of $200,000. Pinnacle is currently closed, having ceased simulcasting in early November, and the future of the track is currently in limbo despite having earlier been awarded live dates for 2011.

The Chippewa tribe operates five casinos in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and had a stake in the Greektown Casino in downtown Detroit before reportedly losing it in bankruptcy court.

The Chippewas are hoping for precedent in opening the casino. In November, the Bay Mills Indian Community opened a casino that consists entirely of 38 slot machines in Vanderbilt, which is north of Gaylord in the upper portion of the Lower Peninsula. However, the casino did not seek approval from the state or federal government, and the Michigan attorney general at the time issued a cease-and-desist order which has been defied by the Indians, which continue to operate the casino.

The attorney general’s office claims the casino does not sit on “Indian lands,” as required. The Indians are arguing that because they already have approval to operate two casinos in the Upper Peninsula, they can operate without any further review or approval. They also argue that the money used to purchase any property comes from funds given by the federal government used to settle land disputes with Indian tribes.

Bay Mills has also reportedly purchased property in Port Huron in hopes of building another casino, and it recently bought 28 acres in Flint Township, although the Flint Journal reported that township officials have received no word from the Indians on any future plans for the property.

It’s not just state nor federal authorities who hope to shut down any casinos opened without authorization; several Indian tribes have also objected. A spokesman for those tribes told Mlive.com that Bay Mills was using the Vanderbilt casino as a test case in hopes to finding out the ramifications.

“They are trying to just push their way in and see if they get pushed out,” U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, co-chairman of the Native American Caucus in Congress, told Mlive.com. “They should follow the ordinary path (to opening a casino).”

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