NEW BUFFALO, MI (AP) A three-judge panel of a federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to prevent an American Indian tribe from building a casino in far southwestern Michigan.
The ruling means, barring further litigation, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians can move forward with its plans to build the 144,000-sq.-ft. casino near New Buffalo, which is in southwestern Berrien County near the Indiana border.
“Tribal sovereignty, federal Indian law and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution have all prevailed today,” tribal Chairman John Miller said in a news release issued by the Pokagons. “The tribe will move expeditiously to begin construction of Four Winds Casino Resort.”
A telephone message seeking comment was left at the Grand Rapids office of Robert Jonker, an attorney representing Taxpayers of Michigan Against Casinos (TOMAC), which filed the lawsuit.
Mike Hosinski, a spokesman of TOMAC, told The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph that because the appeals panel’s decision was unanimous, it was unlikely the group would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We have a month to look at it with our attorneys and see if there’s anything more we can do,” Hosinski said.
The tribe has been waiting for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take into trust the tribe’s 675-acre proposed casino site in New Buffalo Township.
With the land in trust, the tribe could begin the 18-month construction process.
Michigan has 17 tribal casinos, and attempts to expand gambling in the state have been caught up in litigation.
The anti-casino group sued the U.S. Department of Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2001.
Most of the suit was thrown out in March 2002, but U.S. District Judge James Robertson in Washington left alive one claim.
In March 2005, Robertson dismissed the remaining issue of whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs adequately evaluated the environmental impact of developing the casino. His decision led to the appeal.
Oral arguments were made Dec. 8 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.