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Whitmer prevents Hannahville Indian Community from re-opening resort by fining casino employees and visitors

One underreported consequence of the purposeful crashing of the nation’s previously red-hot economy was the effect on casinos, horse tracks and other outlets feeding America’s $137 billion gaming industry.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that 910 casinos nationwide — or 92 percent — temporarily shuttered in response to officials’ orders that declared them “nonessential” businesses, tossing more than 600,000 workers into economic limbo. Now, as restrictions are gradually lifted, casino operators in several states are welcoming the opportunity to get back to business.

Among them was the Hannahville Indian Community, which owns the Island Resort and Casino on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The community, which has fewer than 1,000 members, is a part of the federally recognized Potawatomie tribe.

As a sovereign nation, the Hannahville Indian Community was not bound by Whitmer’s directives. Still, according to Casino.org — which covers the gambling industry — as coronavirus spread, the tribe voluntarily shut down its casino on March 21, two days before Whitmer handed down a stay-at-home order.

The tribe planned to reopen Island Resort on May 6. Its phased-in approach included allowing players access to only slot machines and bingo at first. The tribe also announced temperature checks for all guests and visitors, numerous hand sanitizer stations throughout the casino, limiting food and drinks to carry out only and providing masks to any patron who wanted one.

Still, those smart concessions were not enough for Whitmer or those under her.

After pitching the plan to state officials, the Hannahville community, on the day before the reopening, received a letter from state Attorney General Dana Nessel and a local prosecutor. According to Native News Online, Nessel acknowledged that the tribe was independent and not under state jurisdiction. But the government threatened that it would fine the Island Resort’s employees and customers up to $1,000 a day and seek criminal sanctions for violating Whitmer’s order, which is set to expire on May 28.

“I did not want to put our tribal members or non-tribal members in jeopardy of being cited,” Tribal Chairman Kenneth Meshigaud said in explaining the decision to remain closed.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the casino said Island Resort had reopened on Saturday in accordance with the tribe’s revamped plan put together after a meeting of the tribal council. She declined to comment beyond the reopening criteria posted on the resort’s website but added that business had gone well so far.

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