2017-09-07 / Front Page

Tribal checks still in mail

Press release delayed
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

The checks are in the mail, according to officials of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

Local governments and nonprofits in Leelanau County have come to rely on the semi-annual “2-percent” checks, which stem from a percentage of gaming funds received by the Tribe at its casinos in Peshawbestown and Whitewater Township.

Generally, the tribe stages a twice-yearly media event to announce the distributions and to accept thanks publicly from representatives of the nonprofit organizations and units of government receiving the payments in lieu of property taxes.

However, an event slated for Aug. 18 was canceled with no word on when or how the latest round of 2-percent payouts would be distributed. Officials of several local units of government have contacted the Enterprise since then to see if any staff member knew when the payments would be forthcoming.

After several calls to Tribal Chairman Thurlow “Sam” McClellan went unanswered, Tribal Council vice chair Kimberly Vargo told the Enterprise last week that the Tribal Council voted to approve the latest round of two-percent payouts on Aug. 25.

She said that Tribal Councilors had a legal question about one of the payments, and asked the tribe’s legal counsel for an opinion. In the meantime, she said, all the other 2-percent checks were supposed to have been mailed to recipients last month.

Vargo declined to say which of the proposed payments required legal review, but said she was certain payments to Leelanau County had been mailed out.

Leelanau County administrator Chet Janik said that as of Tuesday, the county had not received a check from the tribe. The county had asked for $131,483 in payments for a list of items including new tasers for the Sheriff’s Department and financial support for “home respite care” from the county’s Senior Services Department.

Under terms of a 1993 federal court consent decree, the tribe is obligated to provide two percent of its slot machine revenues twice yearly to local units of government in the immediate vicinity of its two casinos to pay for governmental services the tribe receives.

The tribe pays no local property taxes on its two casinos – the Leelanau Sands Casino in Peshawbestown, and the Turtle Creek Casino in Grand Traverse County.

A notice sent out on Aug. 1 about the planned August 18 media event indicated the tribe intended to distribute $721,904 for the summer of 2017 payout, bringing the total amount distributed since 1994 to more than $36.2 million.

The $721,904 slated for payout this summer represents a one-percent drop from the amount paid out the year previously, indicating that revenues from slot machines at the two casinos were down slightly. Winter payouts are generally higher because of the seasonal character of the gaming business.

The winter 2017 payout was $884,873, about one percent higher than the winter 2017 amount.

In 1994, when the annual payouts began, the total paid out amounted to just $369,551. Annual payouts reached a peak in 2002 at $1.98 million.

By 2010, with a nationwide economic recession lingering and competing casinos operating across the state, the total payout was $1.72 million. In 2011, payouts decreased to $1.7 million, down 14 percent from the record high payout in 2002.

This year’s total payout is expected to be around $1.6 million.

Tribal member Mary Kelly, who administers the tribe’s legal office and its 2-percent payout program, said the tribe had not yet authorized a press release stating what organizations will received 2-percent funding.

She said that the Tribal Council will be asked to authorize a news release at its next regular session on Sept. 20. That’s when all the payouts are expected to be revealed once action is taken on the payout that was the subject of a legal review.

Return to top