Litigation | Openings & Closings

Gun Lake Tribe prepares for grand opening of $76M casino expansion

A March 2017 construction camera photo shows progress on the $76 million expansion at the Gun Lake Casino, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, in Wayland, Michigan. Photo: Gun Lake Casino

With a long-running lawsuit nearly behind them, the leaders of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians are preparing for the next chapter in their Indian gaming success story.

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, will unveil the results of a $76 million expansion next week. The project represents the first major upgrade at the Gun Lake Casino since the facility debuted more than six years ago amid uncertainty in the federal courts.

By the time of the May 3 grand opening in Wayland, Michigan, the tribe should know whether its legal troubles are indeed over. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce, as soon as Monday, the fate of Patchak v. Zinke, a long-running case that questions the legitimacy of the casino site.

David Patchak, a non-Indian man who lives three miles from the casino, sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs nearly a decade ago in hopes of derailing its opening. Although he wasn't successful in that effort, he's still trying to keep the case alive with his petition to the nation's highest court.

But the tribe and the Trump administration, which inherited the lawsuit in January, are hoping the justices see through the effort. Although the court, with its 2012 decision Salazar v. Patchak, allowed Patchak to proceed with the case, Congress stepped in by passing S.1603, the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act.

The bill, which then-president Barack Obama signed into law in September 2014, confirms that the casino site is indeed in trust and can't be challenged in court.

A time-lapse video from OxBlue shows construction work on the original Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Michigan.

Still, Patchak refused to drop the case and his legal team eventually admitted that he wanted some sort of monetary payment from the tribe or the federal government. A settlement never happened and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the validity of the new law in a unanimous July 2016 decision.

The justices are now meeting behind closed doors to consider what to do with the dispute. Rejecting the petition would give the tribe another victory as it welcomes the public to the casino on Wednesday.

The project consists of a 73,000 square-foot expansion, resulting in a facility that's nearly double the size of the one that opened on February 10, 2011. There's also a 300-seat multi-station buffet and a much larger entertainment stage, along with space for more gaming machines and table games.

The tribe broke ground in early 2016 and construction activities supported 300 to 400 jobs. Another 100 or so employees have since been hired to work at the casino, resulting in more than 900 total team members.

Since 2011, the tribe has shared $88.6 million in gaming revenues with the state and with local governments. A dispute over the state's portion resulted in a partial settlement last July that boosts economic development opportunities in the region. The portion going to local communities has not been affected.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (July 15, 2016)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Patchak v. Jewell (June 18, 2012)

Prior D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Patchak v. Salazar (January 21, 2011)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court relists petition in Gun Lake Tribe gaming land case (April 25, 2017)
Supreme Court takes no action on long-running tribal land case (April 24, 2017)
Supreme Court declines to hear yet another Indian Country case (April 17, 2017)
Trump team gets more time in Supreme Court tribal casino case (February 27, 2017)
Federal appeals court backs Gun Lake Tribe land-into-trust law (July 15, 2016)