An artist's rendering of an expansion at the Four Winds Casino, owned and operated by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in South Bend, Indiana. Image: HBG Design

Pokagon Band negotiates historic Class III gaming compact in Indiana

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians continues to negotiate a Class III gaming compact with the state of Indiana amid plans to expand its historic casino there.

A compact opens the doors to lucrative forms of gaming like slot machines and table games. Such an agreement would be a first in the state, where the tribe operates the Four Winds Casino in South Bend, the only Indian gaming facility in the state.

Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has appointed a team to discuss what might end up in a compact. Sara Tait, the executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, told The Northwest Indiana Times that negotiations are occurring in "good faith," as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"If a compact is reached, it will undergo a public legislative process pursuant to state law, and if the parties are able to reach that point we will be in a position to address the compact at that time," Tait told the paper.

Amid the discussions, the tribe donated $10,000 to Holcomb's re-election campaign, the paper reported. That's on top of a $10,000 contribution to Holcomb's campaign committee in 2018, which was preceded by $10,000 in 2016.

Additionally, the tribe donated $5,000 to the campaign committee of Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch (R) last year, the paper said. Crouch subsequently transferred a $1 million donation from her account to Holcomb's, meaning the donation likely ended up in the governor's hands.

Altogether, Holcomb has benefited from $35,000 in campaign contributions from the tribe over the past three years. Owners of state-licensed casinos are not allowed to make such donations at all, according to the paper.

The paper speculates that compact negotiations might include the issue of campaign contributions. While IGRA does not list every topic that might end up in a Class III agreement, the Bureau of Indian Affairs generally views non-gaming provisions to be unenforceable under federal law.

Four Winds, which is operated pursuant to federal law, currently offers Class II games like bingo and electronic forms of bingo. Despite the somewhat limited options, the tribe is planning to expand the facility to include a 23-story hotel tower with 317 rooms, a convention center, meeting space, a ballroom, lounge, bar and grill, a spa and an outdoor roof-top swimming pool.

"We've been very pleased with the response from the community and the performance of Four Winds South Bend since it opened in January 2018," Chairman Matthew Wesaw, said in a press release. "The expansion will bring to life a variety of exciting features and amenities we envisioned during our original planning process."

"Not only is this expansion an important milestone for all Pokagon citizens, but it also demonstrates our ongoing economic commitment to support the South Bend community including the creation of more than 400 temporary constructions jobs and approximately 100 permanent new jobs to support our ongoing operations," Wesaw said.

In addition to the Indiana property, the tribe operates three casinos in Michigan under the Four Winds name. The flagship facility is located in New Buffalo, just a few miles from the Indiana border and about 32 miles from South Bend.

"For the past twelve years, the Pokagon Band and its Four Winds Casinos have established a standard for excellence, not only in the Midwest, but also nationally. Our casino resorts have consistently been ranked among the best in the country, and we believe these enhancements will make Four Winds South Bend unrivaled in the State of Indiana," said Frank Freedman, the chief operating officer for the enterprise. "From the design, use of materials and the finish work, Four Winds South Bend will offer a premium resort-style feel and amenities you'll find at top resorts in the country."

Citizens of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians are seen with then-president Bill Clinton for the signing of a bill that restored the tribe federal recognition. The ceremony took place on September 21, 1994. Photo courtesy Pokagon Band

The tribe's federal status was reaffirmed through an act of Congress in 1994. The Pokagon Restoration Act authorizes the BIA to acquire homelands for the tribe in Indiana and Michigan, following treaties in which millions of acres were ceded to the United States.

The Pokagon people worked tirelessly to regain our sovereignty for most of the twentieth century, keeping the community connected, meeting regularly and maintaining our traditions and lifeways,” Chairman Wesaw said as the tribe celebrated the 25th anniversary of the law.

“After decades of sacrifice and effort by hundreds of Pokagon Citizens and other volunteers, the federally recognized status of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi was reaffirmed by an act of Congress, which culminated in a signing ceremony at the White House with President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1994," Wesaw said.

To celebrate the milestone, the tribe worked closely with The History Museum of South Bend on a special exhibit. "Keepers of the Fire: The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi" is on display through January 19, 2020.

Read More on the Story
Loophole allows casino owner to donate $10,000 to governor's reelection campaign (The Northwest Indiana Times November 3, 2019)
Michigan tribe to add 23-story hotel to casino (MLive September 13, 2019)
Pokagons announce plans for 23-story hotel tower at South Bend casino complex (The Chicago Tribune September 12, 2019)
23-story hotel tower coming to Four Winds South Bend tribal casino (The Northwest Indiana Times September 11, 2019)
Four Winds South Bend expansion to feature 23-story hotel tower (WNDU September 11, 2019)
Pokagon Band Seeks 'Full Scale' Gaming for South Bend (Inside Indiana Business September 11, 2019)

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