U.S. Supreme Court: Michigan Can't Sue To Close Vanderbilt Casino

May 27, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court says the State of Michigan has no right to sue an Upper Peninsula Indian tribe over a northern Michigan casino. The Bay Mills Indian Community opened an off-reservation casino in Vanderbilt back in 2010 without first getting permission from the state.

The split 5-4 decision could bring both sides to the bargaining table says Matthew Fletcher, an expert in Indigenous Law at Michigan State University.

“That may mean we do have an off-reservation gaming operation somewhere operated by Bay Mills,” he says. “Maybe not in Vanderbilt… but somewhere.”

The casino in Vanderbilt is currently closed, but not by court order.

Fletcher says the court’s decision does allow the state to challenge the casino by other means. The ruling says states can sue individual tribal officials – even hold them criminally responsible for breaking the law. But Fletcher says that’s largely an untested area of law, and that that will work largely in favor of tribes.

“When you have a big gray area where the tribes have just won a major decision – and this is a very major decision – the tribes can try these things and force the states to the table to negotiate some sort of economically viable and political settlement.”

He says, after this ruling, tribes across the nation could try similar tactics with casinos and other business interests off the reservation. The ruling is also good news for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, which is looking to build a casino in downtown Lansing.