FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — More than a decade of work and millions of dollars could be a wash if a casino in Muskegon County doesn’t get the final stamp of approval from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week.
For 12 years, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians has been working to bring a casino to the site of the former Great Lakes Downs Racetrack in Fruitport Township. The now vacant lot is set to be a casino with a 70,000-square-foot gaming floor and a 220-room hotel.
“The community has been asking me continually what’s going on,” said Tribal Ogema Larry Romanelli.
In December, Whitmer filed for a one-time six month extension, which gave her additional time to sign off on the project. In May 2022, the governor reached out to the United States Department of Interior for an additional extension but was denied.
Whitmer must now make a decision to approve or deny the request by June 16.
“We stand to lose a lot to be quite honest. We’ve worked very hard 12, 13 years on this. We have a lot to lose: economic development, jobs and benefits for our tribal members,” said Romanelli.
As time passes, hope for the casino project is dwindling for some.
“I think if she was going to sign it, she would’ve signed it by now,” said Fruitport Township Supervisor Todd Dunham.
Dunham said the township stands to lose more than $2 million. He said they invested the money in infrastructure for the project among other things. Dunham said if the governor denies the project it will also mean the loss off around 3,000 jobs.
“Financially and economically and development wise, it’d be a big blow and that’s what’s eating on me and the others,” said Dunham.
News 8 reached out to Whitmer’s office Monday afternoon to see if there were any updates on her plans to approve or deny the casino. A spokesperson for the governor’s office says they’re continuing to review the proposal ahead of the final deadline.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians says they’re trying to remain positive while stuck in limbo.
“I would like a ‘yes.’ I think it’s reasonable. It’s very reasonable. I think we’ve eliminated all the ‘if’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’ I think that we’ve cleared the way at the federal level and I think we’re doing a good job at the state level,” said Romanelli.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians says if it does get an approval, it would aim for a summer 2024 opening date.