Battle Creek

New report details the positive social and economic impact of FireKeepers Casino

The economic impact of FireKeepers Casino is highlighted in a report released May 21 by Calhoun County, but leaders with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, which owns the casino, the positive societal impact is just as important.

Jamie Stuck, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribal Council Chairperson, says he remembers the high volume of vocal opposition to the casino in 2008 when plans were announced for its construction along I-94 in Emmett Township. Area residents voiced concerns about the potential for increased crime, theft, and gambling addictions, among other issues. Some brandished signs bearing phrases like “CasiNo”.

A committee made up of Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) Council members entered into an agreement in 2008 to do an initial study prior to the casino’s opening by the W.E. Upjohn Employment Research Institute in Kalamazoo to establish a baseline analysis of the social and economic indicators in the county at that time. That study provided a snapshot of what the landscape looked like prior to the opening of FireKeepers and what areas could possibly be impacted by the development of the casino and the adjoining hotel. After ten years of planning, the casino opened Aug. 5, 2009.

A commitment also was made to update that study. The results of that update -- the Socioeconomic Indicators and Economic Impact Analysis of FireKeepers Casino and Hotel -- were recently released by the FireKeepers Local Revenue Sharing Board.

“The study reinforces the ability of our casino to operate in a safe environment and provide economic stimulus to the local community,” Stuck says. “It’s much more than gaming entertainment. The restaurants and entertainment acts that we have also bring in a lot of business.”

The Impact Analysis found that gaming adds almost $250 million in additional sales in Calhoun County, along with $21 million in personal income. Combined, gaming and non-gaming activities, sales in Calhoun County were $443 million higher due to activities of patrons and the facility, and personal income rose by $65 million.

FireKeepers represents slightly more than 4% of all county employment.

Officials with the Upjohn Institute estimate that in 2018, 2,426 jobs were added to the labor market due to people from outside of the county patronizing and spending money on services at the casino. These are public and private sector jobs, including direct employment by FireKeepers and also jobs created from the need for others, including grocers, accountants, and dry cleaners to supply goods and services to workers at FireKeepers.

“FireKeepers has brought much-needed revenue to southcentral Michigan and Calhoun county and also has created opportunities for many workers to do jobs at the casino, jobs that might not otherwise have been available,” says State Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-62nd  District.

He says he also remembers many tense discussions about whether or not a casino was the right choice for the area.

“A lot of the concerns were about a reduction in business for existing small businesses like restaurants or bars as a result of the casino,” Haadsma says. “But, there also were concerns about lawlessness, embezzlement, DUI’s (Driving Under the Influence), drug abuse, and bankruptcy. There doesn’t appear that there’s any kind of negative impact between 2008 and 2018. 

Regarding the social effect of opening the casino, Stuck says there’s no data that shows any crime increasing when compared to other counties that are similar in size and demographic makeup.

The economic and social indicators in the most recent Impact Analysis are reported for Calhoun County as well as the comparison areas of Jackson and Muskegon counties and Emmett Township. These areas were also previously used for comparison in the 2008 study.

Within the social indicators, the Upjohn Institute concluded that both Emmett Township and Calhoun County are doing just as well and in some cases better now, when compared to the baseline year of 2008 and also when measured against comparison counties. These indicators included crime activity, bankruptcy filings, senior assistance requests, divorce rates, and domestic violence reports, among others.

“There was a lot of perceived negatives prior to the casino opening and this study proves that those negatives never came to fruition,” Stuck says.

Aside from the economic impact and job creation, FireKeepers also has been supportive of local nonprofits such as Safe Place, the Haven of Rest Ministries, the Southwest Michigan Food Bank, and local veterans organizations. Their FireHub restaurant also serves as a food pantry that offers pre-packaged meals containing items from restaurants located in the casino complex.

State Sen. John Bizon, (R-19th  District), says the NHBP has proven over the last 10 years that they are responsible community partners.

“The data in this report shows this,” Bison says. “One thing the report missed was the $192.7 million in revenue sharing paid to state government, local municipal governments, and school districts.”

These funds are used to reimburse local municipalities or any organizations that have experienced increased costs due to the operation of the casino, Stuck says. 

“The work done between the local Revenue Sharing Board and the casino has brought local municipalities in the area closer together and created good working relationships that have resulted in a healthier economic outlook,” Stuck says.

Kelli Scott, Calhoun County Administrator, says the county is proud of its strong partnership with FireKeepers Casino Hotel, as well as the local Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.

“FireKeepers' impact on our community is seen daily, then proved by this report. We're feeling the impact now of its closure during the pandemic,” she says. “We look forward to assisting them in the process of reopening when the time comes, in whichever way is most helpful.”

Stuck says leadership with the casino is working towards a re-opening, but a firm date has not yet been finalized.

“We have tentative dates, but things are changing daily,” he says. “There will be more planning as far as training our team members. Once FireKeepers opens we want to make sure we are providing the safest possible environment for our patrons and employees.” 


Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.