By MLive/Muskegon Chronicle Editorial Board

MUSKEGON, MI – All attending the federal public hearing last month on the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians plans for a casino in Fruitport Township must have gone away frustrated.

Most were in favor of the $180 million development at U.S. 31 and I-96 that could create 1,200 new jobs, wanting talk to give way to construction. Those who opposed the casino mainly on moral grounds must wonder why we are still talking about a casino in Muskegon County after all these years.

Since the mid 1990s, the lure of an Indian casino – first downtown and now at the old Muskegon horse-racetrack site – has been debated ad nauseam. Public opinion now appears heavily in favor of getting the casino built and operating. But moving the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is a slow process to say the least.

We acknowledge that The Muskegon Chronicle Editorial Board was one of the strongest opponents of a casino in downtown Muskegon. We softened our position when a casino project surfaced with the Manistee-based tribe’s interest in a second casino in Fruitport Township.

We fully support quick state and federal approval of the Fruitport casino. We continue to strongly oppose a downtown casino that remains a possibility with a Grand Rapids-based tribe seeking federal recognition. Planned for valuable waterfront property, downtown is the wrong place.

The community advantages of a local casino seem obvious to us from construction activity, 1,200 significant new jobs, spin-off development, a boost to our growing tourism industry and revenue-sharing opportunities for schools and local governments.

The downside of casinos is well documented as a casino right down the street can trap those with addictive behaviors. But as alcoholics must live in communities with bars and liquor stores, we cannot outlaw or restrict all activities that some find troublesome. Gambling must be treated like other addictions.

As we ask for quick approval from federal and state authorities, we recognize that the casino issue in Muskegon has been a long struggle. It frustratingly has had no success with more government inaction and the likelihood of resistance from competing tribal casinos on the horizon.

Muskegon County went through similar delays with its entry into the pari-mutuel horse-racing industry in the 1980s, arriving just as the industry was collapsing in the face of new casinos across the state.

It’s interesting that a casino is now planned for that same horse-track site. Hopefully, the Little River Band can get it opened well before the casino craze has crested, leaving the community frustrated once again.

Timing has not been kind to us.


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