The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians broke ground Wednesday on a 23-story, 317-room hotel for their Four Winds Casino in South Bend. "When we initially submitted our land and trust application to the (U.S.) Bureau of Indian Affairs, we had to submit a complete footprint. That was a very big outline of how big we thought the operation could be," said Matt Wesaw, tribal council chair and president of the Pokagon Gaming Authority. The band filed the application to build a casino with the BIA in 2012.
But that’s not the only progress the Pokagon Band is making towards its gaming operations. In August, Wesaw filed a request with the state of Indiana to negotiate a compact that could allow Class III table games, such as blackjack, roulette and craps, at the band’s South Bend casino.
When it opened in January 2018, the 140,000 square-foot facility had 1,400 electronic machines, but no gaming tables. The lack of a compact with the state prohibits the casino from offering those games often wanted by casino customers.
Wesaw says the state has agreed to the Pokagon request. Governor Eric Holcomb has appointed Sara Gonso Tait, the executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, to lead a negotiating team.
“The Class III gaming compact is very strictly governed by federal law and by state law,” says Tait, who describes that level of gaming as “full-scale."
While the casino is located in Indiana, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is based in Dowagiac, Michigan. Wesaw says this will be a new experience with Indiana’s regulatory process. “Under Indiana current law, we will hopefully negotiate an agreement…which will be agreed to by the governor, and then it has to go through a legislative approval process,” said Wesaw.
The compact would need to be approved by the Indiana General Assembly whose annual session typically runs from January through April. Tait says at this point there is no timeline for the process.
“I couldn’t even give you a rough idea of how long that might take,” added Wesaw.
The gaming facility is limited to Class II electronic games and a poker room. If the compact is approved, Four Winds could also eventually offer sports betting which became legal in Indiana in September.
The gaming expansion, while not directly linked to the hotel project, would attract casino customers. “Four Winds South Bend has done very well. We couldn’t be more excited with what it has done,” said Wesaw.
Construction on the hotel project is expected to take two years to complete, creating 400 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs with the gaming outlet.
“Not only is this expansion an important milestone for all Pokagon citizens but it also demonstrates our economic commitment to support the South Bend community,” said Wesaw.
In addition to the casino in South Bend, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians also operates three casinos in southwest Michigan.
Click here to read more about the Four Winds Hotel project.
Wesaw says it’s been an exciting 25 years since President Bill Clinton signed a measure recognizing Pokagon’s sovereignty.