South Bend casino Notre Dame Indiana

One of the most prestigious Catholic universities in the United States, the Notre Dame campus could soon be located just a short drive from a South Bend casino. (Image: Matt Cashore/dailydomer.nd.edu)

The South Bend casino project being proposed by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians is now open for public comment. Last week the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) released the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the planned development, a step that commences a 30-day comment period for citizens to express both concerns and support.

Located near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and US highway 31, the 166-acre site would house a 423,000-square-foot casino and 18-story, 500-room hotel. A large parking garage would be able to accommodate 4,000 vehicles.

The resort would be named the Four Winds Casino, the same name as the tribe’s three Michigan land-based casinos.

The targeted property is southwest of downtown South Bend, and about six miles from the University of Notre Dame campus.

“The Pokagon Band has been in this region for hundreds of years,” Pokagon Chairman John Warren said in a statement. “These are historic agreements . . . that will infuse millions of dollars into the economy and create hundreds of new jobs.”

After the month-long comment period is exhausted, the BIA will release its Record of Decision on whether to permit the casino to begin construction.

Opposition Arises

One organization wasted little time in speaking out.

Citizens for a Better Michiana, an organization formed to oppose the casino, said in a statement that crime jumps 10 percent when a casino is built in a region previously immune to gambling. The group says the casino would be located “dangerously close” to neighborhoods and schools and cited a study by the National Association of Realtors that found casinos have an “unambiguously negative” impact on property values.

Under terms of the deal the Pokagon reached with the local South Bend government, the casino would direct two percent of its net winnings to the city. However, since the Pokagon is a federally recognized tribe operating on reservation land, the casino would be exempt from paying federal and state income tax.

In order to improve its own public opinion, the Pokagon Band announced it would provide aid to various programs in the area including $2.75 million to improve public parks, $500,000 to Memorial Children’s Hospital, and $500,000 to the South Bend Community School Corporation.

Mass Problem

Citizens for a Better Michiana could have the upper hand in the court of law should it look east to a recent ruling in Massachusetts. Last week, a federal district judge ruled against the Mashpee Wampanoag’s casino resort on the basis that the tribe didn’t have the right to acquire land from the US Department of the Interior.

US District Judge William Young said that Native American tribes recognized after 1934 cannot receive land trusts from the federal government. The Pokagon Band was only formally recognized by the US in 1994.

Should the BIA rule in Pokagon’s favor and the casino is built, the venue would be the largest gambling destination in Indiana. Gambling in the Hoosier State had long been limited to riverboats and racinos, but restrictions were eased in 2010 after the French Lick Resort allowed its manmade moat around its casino to dry.

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Editor’s Note August 2, 2016: According to a Dresner Corporate Services spokesperson: “. . . the Mashpee Wampanoag case has no relevance to the Pokagon Band’s casino because the Mashpee Wampanoag decision involves trust acquisition under the Indian Reorganization Act whereas the Pokagon Band’s trust acquisition is under the Pokagon Restoration Act.”  

Dresner represents the Pokagon’s public relations interests.