2012-10-25 / Front Page

Mackinaw City

Citizens Respond To Casino Proposal
By Paul Gingras


The former Kings Inn property in Mackinaw City is the proposed site for a new Class III gaming facility. If the casino is approved by the Mackinaw City Village Council, the Thunder Falls water park property, far left, will be used for parking. To avoid disturbing the wetland area at the center of the photograph, the proposal includes a covered walkway and a tram system to get visitors to and from the main building. The former Kings Inn property in Mackinaw City is the proposed site for a new Class III gaming facility. If the casino is approved by the Mackinaw City Village Council, the Thunder Falls water park property, far left, will be used for parking. To avoid disturbing the wetland area at the center of the photograph, the proposal includes a covered walkway and a tram system to get visitors to and from the main building. A proposal to build a $26 million casino at Mackinaw City drew high attendance and outspoken public comment, most of it unfavorable to the plan, but little comment from the Mackinaw City Village Council, which said weeks of deliberation and a formal public hearing will have to take place before it can reach a decision about whether to support such a plan. The tribe, in response to council questioning, said its proposal for a Class III operation, one that would have slots, poker, and other casino games, would require village approval.


Key Teysen states his opinion of a casino proposed in Mackinaw City by the Little Traverse Bands of Odawa Indians, at the Mackinaw City Village Council meeting Thursday, October 18. The photos visible to the right detail the gaming facility. Tribal leaders presented the images as part of their presentation to the council. To accommodate high public interest, the village held its regular meeting at Mackinaw City Public School, which accommodated a large gathering that included members of the tribe and area residents. Key Teysen states his opinion of a casino proposed in Mackinaw City by the Little Traverse Bands of Odawa Indians, at the Mackinaw City Village Council meeting Thursday, October 18. The photos visible to the right detail the gaming facility. Tribal leaders presented the images as part of their presentation to the council. To accommodate high public interest, the village held its regular meeting at Mackinaw City Public School, which accommodated a large gathering that included members of the tribe and area residents. The other two classes would not require local approval. Class I is for ceremonial and social games with minimal prizes, while Class II would include bingo.

To accommodate public interest in the proposal, the Mackinaw City Village Council moved its regular meeting to the Mackinaw City Public School, where the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians presented their official plans Thursday, October 18. Area residents, members of the tribe, and representatives of the media filled the school’s multi-purpose room to hear the proposal. Public comment periods preceded and followed the presentation. Most speakers disapproved of the project, and debate ensued over whether the tribe intends to build a Class II gaming facility, if the more lucrative Class III project is denied.

Council closed the meeting to the public for almost an hour to hear legal opinion about this and other matters, following the presentation. Village President Jeff Hingston later told The St. Ignace News the meeting was closed to hear legal opinions from village attorney Scott Smith of Clark Hill in Grand Rapids, who was present. Mr. Hingston would not say what other legal matters were discussed.

At the meeting, Mr. Hingston said a decision regarding the casino is to be made only after weeks of deliberation and a formal public hearing.

The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act governs Indian gaming facilities and defines the three classes. Each is regulated differently. Class III status allows for the tribe’s proposed 500 slot machines. Unlike Class I and Class II, this status requires municipal approval, and the tribe would be required by the state to provide 2% of its slot revenues to local governments.

Odawa leaders detailed the philosophy behind the casino and drew on comments from planners, gaming experts, and architects to explain the physical building plans. The tribe proposes a large, lodge-style building at the King’s Inn site on Nicolet Street in Mackinaw City. The Thunder Falls Water Park property has been purchased by the tribe for parking. Planners propose a grand opening in spring 2014.

Melvin Kiogima, Odawa legislative leader, said the proposed casino could generate revenue for the tribe, increase tourism in the area, and generate patronage for Mackinaw City businesses.

Some opposed to the project called for tribal investment in housing for tribal elders and support for youth, rather than taking out loans to build a new casino. Speakers cited buildings in serious need of repair in Petoskey, where the tribe operates a larger casino, and homeless tribal elders.

“I am not in favor of building a second casino,” said Rose Smalley, an Odawa tribal elder. “I feel that we should pay off the huge bond we have…before we go further into debt. When this casino was first brought up, it was a small one, one we could afford. We wouldn’t have to borrow millions and millions of dollars. I am asking the village council not to approve this. It is not the right time for our tribe.”

“I think at this tribe our priorities are a little mixed up,” said Bea Law, a Petoskey tribal member. “We have a huge debt and we are looking at taking our investment funds that we have to fund another small casino up here… At present, there are properties in Petoskey in need of repair. If there is money, we should use it to take care of that. Our present casino has a phase two, where a tremendous amount of money has been spent. I think our primary objective should be to look to the future, especially for our elders, who we are entrusted to take care of. And our youth.”

David Wolf, general manager of Odawa Casino Resort in Petoskey, said feasibility studies indicate the casino’s payoff would be worth the investment. He added that the presence of a casino in Mackinaw City could draw more businesses to the village.

Bryan Gillett, planning director for the project, said the tribe has done extensive research, from wetland impact to the cost of setup.

Once begun, construction is projected to take nine to 12 months, he said. The construction phase would generate approximately 100 construction jobs, Mr. Kiogima noted.

“We’re looking to increase the tourism in this area,” he said said. “Longer stays means more stays at the local hotels, more dollars spent at local restaurants, more business at your gas stations. …We would also see increased economic activity during the winter season.”

The village “would be entitled to 2% revenues from our slots, and also, very importantly, on a year-around basis, we’re looking at the creation of 85 to 90 permanent jobs. Because of the increased revenue, Little Traverse Bay Indians will also realize additional revenues we could use to provide services to our tribal citizens,” he added.

“I’m really ashamed and embarrassed that our tribe is not being honest with the people here or honest with the Village of Mackinaw City,” said tribal member Annett VanDeCar and the tribe’s communications coordinator.

Drawing on comments allegedly made by Mr. Kiogima at two tribal gatherings, Ms. VanDeCar said the Odawa leadership intends to build a Class II facility, if the Class III project is denied.

“How is that neighborly?” she asked, referring to the omission of such information at the Mackinaw City meeting. “We need to be honest and forthright.”

Mr. Hingston questioned whether the Odawa plans to build a gaming facility at the Kings Inn site that does not require village approval.

Mr. Kiogima said the tribe realized it could build a Class II gaming facility.

“Everything is on the table,” he said, however, tribal leaders favor a Class III facility because it would generate more revenue. The tribe does not want a Class II, and the village would not receive 2% slot revenues from such a facility, he added.

“We have not done a feasibility study for a Class II facility,” Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara told The St. Ignace News Friday, October 19. “I can’t see a Class II facility sup- porting a $26 million casino. If this ends up staring us in the face, we’ll have to do another feasibility study.”

Mackinaw City resident Ken Teysen said he strongly opposes the casino. Mr. Teysen said many area residents have lost their homes, owing, he said, to debts incurred by gambling addiction. He added that there are already casinos in the area, notably in St. Ignace and Petoskey.

Mr. Kiogima said the tribe is lucky to be able to generate more revenue via a second casino.

It has been a long process to get approval from the state to build it, and tribal planners want to take advantage of the opportunity while they can. The compact with the state allowing the facility will expire in 2029, he added.

The tribe looked for support from the village council for a casino in 2003, but was turned down with a 6- 1 vote against the idea. The St. Ignace News reported at that time that the council chose not to support the casino owing to a lack of information and opposition from the general public.

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