BMIC Members Voice Support for Bay Mills Casino Expansion

Recently announced expansion plans at Bay Mills Resort & Casino (BMRC) will take things one step further. The new features won’t be gambling-related, but will enhance the overall experience for guests.

The resort’s three-story waterfront hotel expansion includes 134 additional rooms with balconies, a deli, spa with massage therapy rooms, pool with splash pad, hot tubs, nail salon, fitness center, arcade, conference space, and storefront.

The Bay Mills Indian Community, which owns BMRC, made the announcement on Sep. 2. They plan to request bids on the $65 million project this winter and break ground in spring 2023. The expansion should be complete by the following year.

The Bay Mills Indian Community also has DraftKings as its online partner, so it is a big force in the Michigan online gambling space.

BMIC Members Voice Support

These new casino plans have been met with generally positive feedback on social media. Many of those in favor of the plan are themselves members of the Bay Mills community.

Betty Jahnke, a worker at Bay Mills Health Center, said on Facebook: 

Glad to see that Bay Mills will finally be stepping up with the times… please make sure there is culture in the building. We are the Bay Mills Indian Community, not Vegas. 

The president of the BMIC, Whitney Gravelle, also commented:

These amenities will also be open and available to the public. This expansion will also not come at the sacrifice of other development across Bay Mills either, we will continue to pursue greater and better infrastructure projects and services for our Tribal Nation.

Asked by one of her Facebook followers whether BMIC will have sufficient staff for the newly-expanded resort, Gravelle said:

Absolutely, we have an employee retention and recruitment plan that we will be executing for the expansion project. We look forward to growing our team.

Michigan’s Crowded Tribal Casino Market

There are 23 tribal casinos in Michigan, which provide 21,540 jobs and have an economic impact of $3.37 billion. These figures come from research by the American Gaming Association. BMRC shares Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with 10 other tribal casinos:

  • Bay Mills Resort & Casino
  • Island Resort & Casino
  • Kewadin Casinos – Christmas
  • Kewadin Casinos – Hessel
  • Kewadin Casinos – Manistique
  • Kewadin Casinos – Sault Ste. Marie
  • Kewadin Casinos – St. Ignace
  • Northern Waters Casino Resort
  • Ojibwa Casinos Baraga
  • Odawa Casinos Mackinaw
  • Ojibwa Casinos Marquette

Kewadin wanted to build two new casinos further south in the state, closer to the big cities. However, that effort failed to receive approval from the Department of the Interior. They’re now facing a lawsuit from the would-be developer.

Being over-ambitious is always a risk when it comes to building or expanding casinos. Some of those commenting on the Bay Mills plan expressed that worry. Tom Probsy, a former member of BMIC said:

I wish you nothing but success. With that being said, the first thing that comes to mind is the [Odawa] casino in Petoskey. They tried to grow too fast. They went from a very successful casino to a very beautiful and struggling casino. I just hope you are not doing too much, all at once.

BMIC member Jay LeBlanc responded:

I think we’ve given it enough time, we’re ready.

The Bay Mills casino opened in 1995, so it will be about a year from its 30th anniversary by the time the expansion is complete.

The Need to Differentiate

The Michigan Upper Peninsula is pretty sparsely populated for the number of casinos there. Hopes that Michigan sports betting would pull in more cross-border visitors from Ontario have been quashed due to Canada legalizing it shortly after the Michigan launch. Those casinos situated close to the Sault-Ste.-Marie border crossing need to look elsewhere for a boost.

BMRC’s waterfront views and investment in non-gambling entertainment may be just the thing to make it a nicer destination to bring in more guests for family fun. With DraftKings for a partner, Bay Mills can count on significant online gambling revenue to help in the meantime.

The employee break room will also get a facelift as part of the expansion, adding additional space and amenities for staff to relax and enjoy themselves. The exterior plans include new fishing piers, gardens, gazebos and outdoor patios, as well as marina upgrades.

BMRC, located in Brimley, Mich., has over 200 employees, features more than 600 slot machines, eight table games, two restaurants, a golf course, gift shop, hotel, and RV-Park. A DraftKings retail sportsbook is expected to be complete in October.

About the Author

Keith Stein

Keith Stein is a Virginia-based freelance journalist for MichiganSharp. He has a combined 27 years of experience in freelance writing, full-time journalism and supporting monthly and weekly news publications. He has also worked as a contributing writer with United Press International.