Posted on: September 23, 2020, 02:34h.
Last updated on: September 24, 2020, 08:33h.
Island Resort & Casino in Harris, Mich., owned and operated by the Hannahville Indian Community, isn’t halting construction on its $33 million hotel expansion despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Island Resort & Casino isn’t actually located on an island but Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Despite the tribal casino’s remote setting, the closest major city being Green Bay some 90 miles south in Wisconsin, resort officials say more rooms are needed.
We sell out every weekend. We sell out most summer days, with long wait lists,” Island Resort & Casino General Manager Tony Mancilla told NBC WLUC-TV this week. “With this addition, we can accommodate those people.”
The expansion will add 138 rooms to the casino resort, bringing the total to 455 guest rooms. The investment also includes building a restaurant on the 12th floor of the present hotel tower. The steakhouse will be able to accommodate up to 200 diners.
“[That is] three times the size of our current steakhouse,” explained Mancilla.
Michigan Casino Expansion
In December of last year, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed legislation to expand gambling in the state. The bill included sports betting and online gambling, both approved for Native American casinos.
Island Resort & Casino won $52.7 million on its 1,200 slot machines in 2019. For sports betting, the casino has partnered with BetAmerica, a subsidiary of Churchill Downs Inc.
Island Resort opened its BetAmerica Sportsbook earlier this month, just in time for the kickoff of the NFL regular season. The BetAmerica Sportsbook was the first brick-and-mortar sports betting location to open in the Upper Peninsula.
Winning Streak Ends
Prior to the coronavirus, the good times were rolling at Michigan’s tribal and commercial casinos.
The state’s three commercial casinos — MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity, and Greektown — reported record gross gaming revenue (GGR) of $1.45 billion. Michigan’s 24 Class III tribal gaming properties won more than $1.5 billion on their casino floors.
COVID-19 brought the enthusiasm surrounding Michigan’s gaming industry to a screeching halt. Detroit casinos closed on Whitmer’s orders March 16 and were shuttered until early August.
Tribal casinos are immune from state orders, as they operate on sovereign land. But that didn’t mean Whitmer was powerless in deciding when tribal gaming resumed play.
After voluntarily closing its casino to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on March 21, Island Resort announced its plans to reopen on May 6. However, the tribe reversed course after Whitmer threatened to fine off-reservation casino employees and customers for violating her orders. Those found not complying with the governor’s orders, including bans on indoor gatherings, such as a casino floor, could have been subject to fines of as much as $1,000 per violation.
To appease the governor, Island remained shuttered for an additional 10 days, ultimately reopening on May 16. Employees and guests remain subject to temperature checks before entering, and are required to wear face masks inside. Indoor smoking is prohibited, and slot machines are cleaned after each use.