Hannahville Indian Community Sets Casino Reopening Despite Mich. Gov. Advisory

Hannahville Indian Community owns and operates The Island Resort & Casino in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and plans to begin phases of reopening on May 6 with slot machines, select to-go food, select bars, bingo and retail. (Courtesy Hannahville Indian Community)

Michigan’s Tribal casinos are not under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Gaming Control Board and thus not required to follow the latest closure extension issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. While most Michigan Tribes have elected to adhere to the statewide advisory, the Hannahville Indian Community is leveraging sovereignty for a partial reopening starting this Wednesday. 

The commercial casinos overseen by the Michigan Gaming Control Board are situated in Detroit, whereas the Hannahville Indian Community’s Island Resort & Casino is located in in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — a lower risk zone for the potential spread of the Coronavirus. 

On May 6, Island Resort visitors can play slot machines, order select to-go food, patron select bars, and play bingo and shop retail outlets. The Community posted a two-page document of general guidelines to its Facebook page May 1. Precautionary measures include temperature checks at all entrances, hand sanitizer stations, and plexiglass barriers between staff and guests where possible.

The casino’s plan entails reopening its Sage Run and Sweetgrass golf courses May 8 and its hotel on May 13. This reopening goes against Gov. Whitmer’s extended closure of theaters, bars, restaurants, and casinos under the purview of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Casino General Manager Tony Mancilla told UPMatters that he believes it’s the right time to reopen. “We feel we’re doing what everyone else does. Hotels are open, restaurants are open. We have those things. The only difference is the slot floor. We think we can keep that clean and our customers themselves will keep themselves safe. As far as the Governor’s order, those casinos are in the hot spot of Detroit. Those three casinos they have jurisdiction over are right in the middle of where all this is happening, and that makes sense. It doesn’t make sense for us here in the U.P. that was lightly hit,” said Mancilla.

Michigan’s commercial casinos — Motor City Casino, Greektown Casino and MGM Grand — are based in Detroit, home to the bulk of COVID-19 cases in the state. As of May 4, Wayne County had 17,298 confirmed cases and 1,893 deaths due to Coronavirus.

The Island Resort & Casino is near Escanaba in Menominee County. As of May 4, Menominee County has confirmed five cases of Coronavirus and no deaths. The State of Michigan has had 43,207 total confirmed cases and 4,020 deaths from COVID-19.

“The virus has killed more Michiganders than we lost during the Vietnam war,” Whitmer said. “Extending this order is vital to the health and safety of every Michigander. If we work together and do our part, we can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

While Gov. Whitmer says reopening venues would put the lives of Michganders at a heightened and unnecessary risk (she has extended the stay-at-home order to May 15 for the time being), the Hannahville Indian Community has a valid point. Confirmed Coronavirus cases in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (five) are minor compared to Detroit, and the Tribe relies heavily on gaming revenues to support its critical programs and services to Tribal citizens. 

As Frank Ettawageshik, executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan, recently told Bridge Michigan about the state’s 12 Tribal gaming properties: “The casinos provide the revenue that’s making up for woefully inadequate funding from the federal government.” 

READ MORE: When Should Casinos Reopen? Coeur d’Alene Says Now, Others Wait

READ MORE: Michigan Tribes Face Service Loss Among COVID-19 Casino Closures

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