LANSING (WWJ/AP) – A $245 million American Indian casino in downtown Lansing could create about 2,200 jobs and help fund scholarships for area students, according to backers of a plan to open the gambling facility.
The Kewadin casino would be built near the Lansing Center and owned by the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick reported the project has the support of the city’s mayor.
“The angriest mayor in America is not angry any more,” said Skubick. “In fact, Virg Bernero is just downright geeked at the prospects, underscore, the prospects of a casino in downtown Lansing — $245 million, with 700 construction jobs, 1,500 permanent jobs.”
Bernero said it would improve the viability of the convention center and fund four-year college scholarships for Lansing School District students under what’s being called the “Lansing Promise.”
“It’s huge for my city,” Bernero said of the casino project.
The scholarship idea is modeled in part after The Kalamazoo Promise, an anonymously funded free college tuition program for high school graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools that started with the class of 2006.
Under the casino plan, Lansing would get $5 million to $6 million a year in revenue, about 2 percent of the $250 million a year the casino could bring in.
The 125,000-square-foot casino would offer up to 3,000 slot machines and 48 gambling tables. Bernero said he hopes construction could start in 12-24 months, and he estimates it would take 14-18 months.
“We have a true partnership in Lansing,” tribal Chairman Joe Eitrem said in a statement. “They sincerely want jobs and opportunities for their citizens and students just as we seek to provide jobs, services and a better future to our tribal members through gaming.”
The casino would mark a return to off-reservation gambling for the tribe, which formerly was the majority owner of Detroit’s Greektown Casino. The tribe operates several Michigan casinos under the Kewadin name.
Details were to be presented Monday to City Council. The plan would need approval from the Interior Department.
The casino would be built on land that is currently owned by the city. That land would need to be sold to the tribe for the casino to operate. Under the plans, a smaller, temporary casino would open first.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which operates the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort about 60 miles north in Mount Pleasant, plans to attempt to block the Lansing casino, The Morning Sun of Mount Pleasant reported.
“The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe stands firm in its vehement opposition to any off-reservation gaming,” said spokesman Frank Cloutier.
The Lansing casino also would compete with FireKeepers Casino near Battle Creek, 45 miles southwest of Lansing, which is owned by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians.
According to Skubick, a legal challenge is expected.
“The tribe said it’s willing to put up the money to battle this out in the courts, and that is probably where it’s gonna go first,” Skubick said.
Michigan has more than two dozen casinos, including three in Detroit.
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