Supreme Court affirms amended casino deal between Odawa & Granholm 5-30-07

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Jennifer Granholm was legally able to let a northern Michigan tribe open another casino in exchange for state government getting more gaming revenue, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court's 5-2 decision upheld a renegotiated deal with the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. The compact received no approval from the Legislature after it was amended in 2003.

Justice Michael Cavanagh, writing for the majority, said original compacts negotiated in 1998 by then-Gov. John Engler had a clause allowing a governor to act for the state in making amendments.

During talks with the Odawa tribe, which runs a casino in Petoskey, Granholm agreed to let it build another one in Mackinaw City in exchange for the tribe giving a higher percentage of its revenue to the state. The tribe has not opened the second casino, which would require a vote of the local community.

Odawa Tribal Chairman Frank Ettawageshik said the case was not about opening another casino but rather the process of approving compact amendments.

“We were confident we would prevail,” he said in a phone interview.

The tribe will not try to open a second casino in the “immediate future,” he said, and is focusing on the grand opening of a new Petoskey facility in July.

An anti-gambling group in 1999 challenged the validity of some of Michigan's tribal gaming deals because legislators endorsed them in a resolution, an easier task than passing a bill. Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos later said not getting legislative approval of the Odawa amendments violated the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

A message seeking comment was left Wednesday with a Grand Rapids law firm representing the anti-gambling group. Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said the administration was confident all along that its actions were constitutional.

The case directly involves the Odawa tribe but has been closely watched because it could have implications for future attempts to change other tribal agreements.

Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, Maura Corrigan, Marilyn Kelly and Robert Young Jr. joined the majority opinion, which reversed a decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Stephen Markman and Elizabeth Weaver dissented, arguing that the compacts should have been passed by legislation.

Michigan has 20 casinos, including 17 run by American Indian tribes and three Detroit casinos.