The Manistee-based Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI) wants to build a casino near The Lakes shopping mall in Fruitport Township, and the Grand Rapids-based Grand Rivers Band of Ottawa Indians (GRBOI) wants to build a casino in downtown Muskegon. As these two tribes vie for control of a Muskegon gambling franchise, the economic future of Muskegon County may hang in the balance, and this week’s announcement by the LRBOI represents a dramatic escalation in the battle for gambling in Muskegon County. After the GROI received favorable attention and media buzz last week for announcing their proposed downtown Muskegon casino would be connected by high-speed monorail to the Muskegon County Airport and also Sam’s Club on Sherman Blvd., the Little River Band retaliated yesterday afternoon by unveiling a revised plan for their proposed $100 million gaming complex near U.S. 31 and Sternberg Ave, which will now include a 50-acre outdoor Water Theme Park for children.
The water park, to be built outside the casino, and enclosed by walls and a roof for climate-control purposes, will include lifeguards and licensed day-care providers to keep children happily and safely occupied, leaving parents to gamble, worry-free, inside the main casino. “Gamble with your money, but NOT with your children!”, emphasizes LRBOI Tribal Council Member and Head of Gaming, Sean McMurphy. McMurphy’s red hair draws some stares at tribal gatherings, but genetically he is one-eighth Ottawa Indian, allowing him to be a fully-fledged member of the Tribe, and he is no less passionate about his heritage than a Native-American with two or three times the Indian genes Sean possesses. “You think being called a half-breed is offensive and hurtful? Try being called an eighth-breed all your life…it’s an awful thing to live with, but that’s why I’ve dedicated my life to the betterment and preservation of the Tribe through Casino-ownership.”
The Grand Rivers Band dismisses the LRBOI’s plan for a water park, calling it a cheap and inappropriate marketing ploy. “The Little River Band has gone way off the reservation if they think pandering to children is the way to get their casino proposal approved”, said GRBOI spokesperson Maya Stubtoe, “And I mean that quite literally, because their reservation is in Manistee, where they already own their one allotted casino. It’s our turn now, here in Muskegon.” The Little River Band’s Sean McMurphy chuckles at Stubtoe’s comments. “The Grand Rivers Band may think we’re off the reservation, but they don’t even have a reservation”, says McMurphy, alluding to the fact that the GRBOI isn’t one of the 566 Native-American tribes officially recognized by the Federal Government, and all their efforts to obtain Federal Reaffirmation since 1934 have been unsuccessful. “Not to mention that they aren’t from Muskegon, either”, scoffs McMurphy, “They’re from Grand Rapids.”
As each tribe raises the stakes in Muskegon County, some observers are concerned that other local tribes could take sides and be drawn into the conflict, but a recent Facebook posting by the prominent West Michigan tribe Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (formerly the Gun Lake Band of Grand River Ottawa Indians) have assured local Native-Americans and European-Americans alike that the Match-e-be-nash-she-wishes are focused entirely on improvements and upcoming special offers in their Gun Lake casino, and intend to stay neutral in the battle for a Muskegon casino.
While this territorial skirmish for casino ownership is far from over, and could take several years to be decided, it appears The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is the current frontrunner for building a new gaming complex. The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in June of this year, supporting their proposal, and in 2012 the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber managed the impressive feat of issuing a statement supporting the Fruitport Township Casino proposal without once using the words ‘casino’, ‘gaming’ or ‘gambling’ in their written statement. “We wanted to put the emphasis on job growth and tax revenues for the County”, confided one Chamber Official on condition of anonymity, “After all, what better way to stimulate economic growth than by encouraging people to gamble away their hard-earned money on a roulette wheel or a slot machine? Obviously, we have no good ideas for building a stronger local economy, so letting the Indians build another casino is probably better than doing nothing, right?”