Indian Gaming and Detroit Casinos
As sovereign lands, Indian reservations often are able to offer high-stakes gambling that isn’t legal elsewhere in the state. Michigan’s first Indian-run casino opened in 1984. The Bay Mills Blackjack Casino had just 15 blackjack tables and one dice table in a 2,400-square-foot room in the tribal center. While it wasn’t Atlantic City, visitors quickly displayed their love of gambling, pouring millions of dollars into casino coffers. It started a gambling tradition that has escalated ever since.
There are currently 17 Indian casinos in Michigan. They range from small, simple gambling halls to glitzy showplaces like Leelanau Sands in Peshawbestown. Many are open 24 hours a day and have become enormous tourism draws.
By the early 1990s, the state wanted in on the deal. In September 1993, Governor John Engler passed the Tribal-State Gaming Compact, giving the state 8 percent of net win income derived from games of chance. While providing the state government with easy cash, the success of Indian gaming has also given new power and influence to tribal governments.
Non-Indian groups were soon eager to seize a piece of this cash cow. In 1997, Detroit voters approved a controversial referendum permitting non-Indian casino gambling within the city limits. After years of controversy, several casinos have opened in the Motor City, including the MGM Grand Detroit, the first-ever, Las Vegas–style destination to open in a major metropolitan core.
Given the competition from Detroit, many of the Indian-owned facilities have expanded. Soaring Eagle, in Mount Pleasant, added a 514-room luxury hotel. The Kewadin complex in Sault Ste. Marie houses an incredible, 1,500-seat performance venue. Not surprisingly, even more tribes, many of whom live at or near the poverty level, are seeking to open casinos.
While the pros and cons of gambling remain an ethical debate, there’s no arguing the positive effect gaming has had on the reservations’ economies. Within the Indian community, gambling provides jobs and funds schools, health-care facilities, and cultural centers. Many overlook that it provides loads of economic benefits to those outside the Native American community, too, providing jobs for the building trades and tourism industry. Michigan residents and visitors, it seems, just can’t spend enough on Lady Luck.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel