Casino deal with six tribes may end today

LANSING (AP) – Deals struck 20 years ago to authorize the first American Indian casinos in Michigan may expire Saturday, and it could be months – even years – before the state and six tribes reach new agreements.

But, at least initially, nothing changes.

People will continue gambling and working at the 14 casinos in central and northern Michigan with expired deals. They represent about two-thirds of all 22 tribal casinos statewide.

The so-called “1993” tribes stopped paying 8 percent of their slot profits to the state by the late 1990s after voters allowed three commercial casinos to open in Detroit and other Indian casinos were launched, which was considered a breach of the original tribal casinos’ exclusivity rights.

The 1993 tribes still pay 2 percent of their slot take to local governments, more than $11 million last year. But some payments have come under scrutiny because the tribes have leeway to decide which local governments or groups get the money.

State officials want the new deals to look similar to those for newer Indian casinos, spelling out in more detail how the payments are divvied up.

Another question is whether the state will ever again receive money from the tribes for economic development programs like it does from newer tribal casinos. The state got nearly $61 million in casino revenue in 2012 from six other tribes with new or updated deals.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration is staying tight-lipped.

“We’ve worked hard to build a good working relationship with the tribes, and we’re optimistic the discussions will be productive,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said.

Though the agreements are due to end Saturday, they will remain in effect pending the exhaustion of administrative and legal remedies outlined under federal law.

Both sides may want to wait to negotiate new compacts pending the outcome of a closely watched Michigan case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices on Monday will hear arguments on what power, if any, the state has to shut down a tribal casino it says opened without permission.

The case involves off-reservation gambling, but the high court ruling could have broader implications on states’ ability to sue sovereign tribes.

The Bay Mills Indian Community opened a casino in 2010 in Vanderbilt in the northern Lower Peninsula about 90 miles south of its Upper Peninsula reservation, where it has two casinos. A similar clash is ongoing in Lansing, where the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians bought land for a casino 260 miles away from its Upper Peninsula reservation.

Both tribes are among those with 1993 compacts with the state.

The Fletcher law firm in Lansing, which specializes in Native American legal issues, has said when the 20-year-old agreements expire is up for interpretation. Some experts cite a provision implying that the deals automatically roll over for five years if no new ones are reached.