Judge orders Michigan tribal casino to close

DETROIT — A federal judge ordered the closure of the Bay Mills Indian Community’s casino in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula on Tuesday while he decides if it is operating illegally as another tribe claims.

A Bay Mills switchboard operator said the contested casino in the village of Vanderbilt shut down at midday according to the terms of Judge Paul Maloney’s preliminary injunction. A spokesman for a coalition of tribes opposed to the casino also confirmed that the facility closed Tuesday.

The casino opened in November and is located about 125 miles south of the Bay Mills reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Opponents say the Vanderbilt casino is not legal because it’s not located on Indian land.

Messages seeking comment on the decision were left at Bay Mills’ tribal offices.

The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, which operates a casino about 30 miles away in Petoskey, filed suit last year to try to force the closure of the Vanderbilt casino, which then had roughly 40 slot machines. It now has 84 slot machines.

On Tuesday, Maloney said it was likely that he would find in favor of Little Traverse Bay and noted that the tribe is being harmed by the Vanderbilt casino. The Odawa Casino Resort has nearly 1,500 slot machines, as well as table games.

“The evidence in the record demonstrates that the Vanderbilt casino directly competes for gambling dollars with the Petoskey casino and that gamblers who were previously going to the Petoskey casino are now going to the Vanderbilt casino,” Maloney wrote.

The tribal chair of the Little Traverse Bay Bands did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed a brief in support of the Little Traverse Bay Bands’ suit to shut down the casino.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision because the casino is operating illegally,” Michigan Attorney General’s office spokesman John Selleck said of the Bay Mills’ facility.

The injunction has statewide implications, according to James Nye, spokesman for the Coalition of Tribes Opposed to Off-Reservation Gaming. The coalition is a group of five Michigan tribes opposed to the Vanderbilt casino.

Maloney’s order has “made it clear the outcome is likely not in favor of Bay Mills,” Nye said.

“They could have opened an unlimited number of casinos whenever and wherever they choose,” he said. “Our tribes have played by the letter and spirit of the law, and operated lawful tribal gaming facilities as intended by federal law.”

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