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Rising West Michigan Casinos Hedge Competition on Location

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“We’re very excited about our market,” John Shagonaby, chief executive officer of the Gun Lake Tribal Gaming Authority, told “Our location is the best in this area.”

With three West Michigan casinos in operation, two under construction and one proposed, the area is rapidly becoming saturated with gaming venues. “Distance is the biggest factor determining which casino people will go to,” said Jacob Miklojcik, president of Michigan Consultants, who has worked with several state tribes on early casino development, to

Run by the Gun Lake Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, the $157 million Gun Lake Casino, set to open in February 2011, sits in a prime location halfway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo – the region’s most densely populated centers.

On Gun Lake’s heels, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is gearing to premiere a second, smaller casino, Four Winds North, in Van Buren County by the end of 2011. This satellite casino will leverage nearby Kalamazoo gamblers, while its older New Buffalo-based Four Winds North complex, which opened in August 2007, will continue to pool from Michigan’s untapped though less populated southwest.

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Keeping its foot in the game, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians is pushing forward with a $400 million proposed casino on the former Great Lakes Downs racetrack in Fruitport Township, just outside Muskegon. The band hopes the closer location will maintain customers who opt for Gun Lake over driving north to its Little River Casino in Manistee.

The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, however, plan to stick with one casino near Battle Creek and stay put for now. It may stand as a distant second in terms of proximity to Grand Rapids and Muskogen residents, but Firekeepers has proven financially successful since its August 2009 opening, pulling in $96.5 million after paying out winnings in the first five months, and paying off its $35 million loan four years ahead of schedule.

Michael Facenda, the casino’s marketing director, remains confident. “We think that the customers who’ve enjoyed FireKeepers will continue to enjoy FireKeepers,” also mentioning their Las Vegas experience versus “the resort-lodge offering” differentiates FireKeepers from competition.